She’ll often respond to a complaining child with, “that sounds like a you problem.”
It could sound cruel without context. But when you and I are honest, we are central to all of our problems, aren’t we? She’s teaching them resilience and to take responsibility.
I was reflecting on Psalm 88 and it occurred to me: Heman, the author, had a pretty bad “you problem.”
The Psalm is a desperate one; a lamentation, to use a biblical word. Essentially, a pity party.
Of its 300 words there are 15 uses of “me,” 14 uses of “my,” and 9 uses of “I.”
Heman was pretty focused on himself…and his problems. But there’s good news within as well. But I want to avoid the classic preacher trope which would go something like this:
“You know we just need to take our eyes off ourselves and put them back on the Lord.”
While that’s true and all and I certainly believe it (somedays more than others), I’m not sure that’s the best takeaway from Heman’s little pity party. Because that sort of “application” makes this Psalm less a prayer that I can adopt as my own and more a dead body to examine in a morgue.
God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12) and He wanted Heman’s words to keep on breathing today. So let me share something that’s a bit less “dust yourself off and get back on the horse” and a bit more “Jesus is with you in the pit.”
First off, from a 40,000 foot level, understand the very fact that these words exist in our Scriptures gives us permission to be honest with God when we throw ourselves a pity party. I don’t know about you, but when I witness someone throwing themselves such a party, I tend to reject the invite when it’s extended. That’s one piece of mail I’m happy if it gets lost in transit.
My kids, for example, are likely to be met with a snide remark like the one above. But, Jesus is a bit more compassionate than I am. Not only would he suffer to hear Heman’s prayers in Psalm 88—if a bit exaggerated—but he’d suffer to canonize them in Scripture for us to make our own when we feel we are in a similar pit of despair.
Secondly, on this side of Jesus’s resurrection we get some really profound answers to Heman’s litany of divine questioning in verses 10-14. Here they are for reference:
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume these were rhetorical questions that Heman expected to be met with a definitive “no.” But, as it turns out, these questions are met with a resounding “yes and amen” in Jesus Christ. It turns out, when our God rises from the dead he has every intent of robbing death the pleasure of having the last word for us as well.
The departed will, in fact, rise up to praise the Lord again some day. His steadfast love is quite the declaration to a now bankrupt grave. Where is your sting, O death?
But that’s not even the best part about Jesus’s response to our pity parties. It turns out God won’t cast his soul away, or mine, or yours. And that’s because the one soul he did cast away was Jesus. His cries in Gethsemane were met with silence so that our cries would be met with grace. “The Father turned his face away” from Jesus so that our prayers would be heard. Jesus went down to the pit so that our little pity parties would be met with compassion. The Prince of Peace would be crowned with thorns so that we could feast in the presence of enemies (Ps. 23:5).
And that’s good news even on the days when the unholy trinity (me, myself, and I) tempt you to take your eyes off of Jesus. There’s a good chance, he might even join you there, if only to remind you that you’re not alone. He’s descended to pits deeper than yours, it turns out.