Good Grief (6)
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave. Psalm 88.3
A psalm of suffering
Psalm 88 is best understood as a prophecy concerning the suffering of Christ. Here we encounter the grief of the Savior as He sank into His passion, alone, and feeling very far from God.
We cannot know what adversity led the sons of Korah to compose this psalm; however, we cannot miss the many allusions in the psalm to what Jesus experienced during His suffering on the cross. Jesus was abandoned by His friends (v. 8); truly, He had lost the only loved ones He’d ever known. He was forced to endure all the pain of all the sins of the world, and He suffered what the unrepentant will suffer for eternity in hell. His hopes, while not entirely dashed, were certainly set back, even as He knew they would be.
The physical and spiritual suffering He endured qualified Him above all men to receive the epithet, “Man of Sorrows.”
But the greatest grief and sorrow that Jesus experienced as He hung on that cross was the sorrow of separation from His Father. The grief of separation resounds throughout Psalm 88. The suffering Savior cries day and night, but God does not respond (vv. 1, 2). God appears to remember Him no more (v. 5). He pours out wrath on His Son rather than eternal love (v. 7). He sends His Son to darkness and the grave, far from the light of eternal glory which is His true and familiar home (vv. 10-12). The Lord hides His face from the suffering One (v. 14).
Psalm 88 is one of the only psalms which does not recover from the negative affections with which it begins, but, instead, descends persistently to greater depths of sorrow, woe, and grief.
The grief of separation
Jesus shows us that there is no grief so great as the experience of being separated from God. Since, in the presence of the Lord we expect to know true glory, fullness of joy, and pleasure forever more (Ps. 16.11), it only makes sense that, separated from Him, we should know only sorrow, grief, and deepest dread.
Why, then, does this so seldom seem to be the case? Billions of people all over the world live in a condition of separation from God, and they seem not much troubled by it. Millions of believers routinely neglect to meet with God in His Word and prayer, and go off into their lives marching more in step with the world than with the Savior Who died for them. Why, then, do such people not experience what Jesus experienced when He knew Himself to be separated from God?
The answer is simple: Jesus had come from eternal glory. He had dwelled for all eternity past in the fullness and radiance of the love of the Father and Spirit. His brief earthly sojourn did not separate Him from that experience. Jesus maintained the joy and glory of that fellowship even as He trod the earth among sinful people such as we.
But the cross changed that. On the cross the Father, after a fashion, forsook His Son, because the Father is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and Jesus had become all evil in our place, for our redemption.
Jesus grieved and cried out and sorrowed because He had become separated from God. He knew better than anyone who ever lived what it means to be united with God and to participate in His glory. Jesus grieved because He knew what He was missing.
We don’t grieve to be separated from God because, for most of us, it’s really no big deal.
The presence of the Lord
If we knew the presence of God more truly, we would be more sensitive to the grief of being separated from Him. If every day of our lives we experienced and lived out the hope of glory, and if we knew the love and peace and powerful indwelling presence of Christ more constantly, every day of our lives, then, when we neglect to enjoy the presence and pleasure of our God, we would experience the good grief such separation from our Father brings.
And that good grief will create in our hearts a longing for our Father, and will begin the process of our being restored to His presence once again.
1. Read Psalm 88. Point out the references which seem to indicate sorrow and grief.
2. Do you think Jesus really sorrowed on the cross? Why? Should we share in His sorrow at all?
3. Meditate on 2 Corinthians 3.12-18. What does it mean to encounter God in His glory? When do you experience this? Does it grieve you to be separated from God?
Next steps – Preparation: Do you experience grief at being separated from God? Does it bother you that you don’t pray more than you do? That your times in God’s Word are not as many or as meaningful as you think they should be? That you so often give in to temptation and fall through it into sin? Talk about this with some of your Christian friends. How can you encourage one another to greater consistency in knowing the pleasure and joy of God’s presence in your lives?
T. M. Moore
This is part 7 of a multi-part series on Keeping the Heart. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.