In his exposition of Psalm 88, Spurgeon wrote, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for it, there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.”
While some would think becoming a pastor at the age of nineteen was the most astonishing fact about Charles Haddon Spurgeon, or that he preached so many outstanding sermons in his time at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, few have known or have imagined that Spurgeon suffered from severe depression throughout his entire ministry.
The problem of suffering is one of the most significant theological challenges we face. The curious, as well as the critics of Christianity, will undoubtedly ask, “How can a good God allow these things to happen? Where is he in the midst of all this suffering?”
These are the questions that keep us awake at night, tie our emotions in knots, cause friction among families, and may even attack the very foundations of our trust in God.
Often in our lives, the desire to control our circumstances and destinies displaces our confidence in God. We want to fix our problems. We want to correct them. We want immediate answers. And we don’t want the darkness we experience even if we believe God remains by our side.
However, we know from the Scriptures, and from our own journeys, that our pain and sufferings are often the means by which we are motivated to seek God, surrender to his will, and submit to his sovereign work in our lives. God uses all of our difficult experiences to develop our faith, and often as a testimony to others. He nurtures our deepening trust in him and develops our character toward Christlikeness.
By the sheer fact that the number of lament psalms almost matches the number of praise psalms in the Hebrew Psalter, the answer to the storms in our lives is a “truth-mentored trust” in God. Even when we can’t see what will happen, we can trust what we know about him. That alone should cause us to reach out in faith toward God and believe him and his Word.
The Scriptures declare God is trustworthy. And we too can confess this statement of confidence toward him even when a problem still exists. When we address God in times of trouble, we reach out through petitions and laments for that handle of faith to sustain us.
Knowing the plan of God did not prevent Christ from lamenting. In Gethsemane, he voices Psalm 88: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt 26:38). On the cross, he cried Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
Let’s continue to prepare our hearts to pray—to lament—and ask God to deal with us, to hear us, to help and save us. And like most psalms, we can end our petitions with a vow to keep worshiping, to keep praying, and to keep crying to our great God even in the dark corners of our praises.
Spurgeon wrote that the “only ray of comfortable light which shines” throughout Psalm 88 is the hopeful title by which the psalmist addresses the Lord—Lord God of my salvation. “The writer has salvation, he is sure of that, and God is the sole author of it. While a man can see God as his Saviour, it is not altogether midnight with him.”