Psalm 88 - No hope when emotions rule faith

Emotions (Feelings) are a strong part of our human minds, but they are unreliable. You can trust faith and prayer.

First published on the 26th of May 2019 — Last updated on the 10th of July 2021

Psalm 88 deals with intense emotional despair.

We humans are very much controlled by emotions but these emotions are poor counsellors.

Good people are afflicted and go through the deepest despair.

Any strategy that is driven by emotions will most likely fail.

When things go wrong, our emotions lack the depth that is required to cope.

Emotions are like a shallow foundation that cannot withstand the severest storms of life.

Certainly, this Psalm is a song of sorrow and sadness. The sorrows of one saint are lessons to others.

This is a  man of deep experience in the misfortunes of life.

Like Job, we struggle to stay faithful when we seem to be abandoned. Loneliness is a modern day curse which devastates our feelings and leaves us saddened, wretched, despondent, and feeling worthless.

Overwhelmed by the adversities of life, we feel cut off from the normal flow of human events. Our hopes shrivel up as we feel rejected and disheartened. Our lives seem a waste. Would that we had never been born.

There was darkness for three hours when Jesus died. Just to add that extra gloom to His sufferings, and agony, and torment. He experienced intense physical and mental torment.

God is not just there for our success but also for our difficulties and defeat.

Yet difficulty and defeat are the anvils whereon our characters are hammered out.

This Psalm paints a bleak picture of suffering.

And there are no glib answers. Sorrow and suffering is a deep topic.

The Bible is in fact brutally honest about pain and misfortune. They present a powerful challenge to our ability to believe. Faith easily dies in harsh circumstances.

Jonah was in deep trouble as they threw him overboard. But he knew nothing of the fish that was to take him to land.

Yet even when Jonah was in the belly of the fish that was to save him, he still felt afflicted as if he was in hell.

JONAH 2:1   Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly,

:2     And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

So Jonah, having no clue as to what God was planning to do, was just aware of his own sufferings at that time. Engrossed in his own problems, he gave no thought to what God wanted to achieve.

JONAH 2:7   When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

From Jonah we learn a vital lesson. The only effective action to take to combat despair is prayer.

When things really go wrong, that should drive us to pray.

JONAH 2:10   And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

When they heard that Jonah came rushing out of their fish god’s mouth on a torrent of vomit, people from Nineveh immediately assumed Jonah was a prophet. After all, he had come straight out of the mouth of their god. So they listened. Thus Jonah’s worst experience turned to the advantage of the kingdom of God.

Simon of Cyrene did his greatest service to God when he carried the cross for Jesus. Yet he hated doing that and had to be forced to do it.

MATTHEW 27:32   And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.

A harsh lesson for us. We do not like what God wants done and God has to force us to do it, against our self-will.

So our emotions of like and dislike easily deceive us.

God’s ways are not our ways.

ISAIAH 55:8   For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

:9   For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God often has to flatten our emotions with the hammer of despair so that we learn not to trust our emotions. Especially when sadness erodes our hopes.

Psalm 88 sees a person in deep despair who has no hope because of affliction and deep distress.

But Psalm 88 has one good point. It begins with a prayer.

The earnest prayer of a person in deep distress. Feeling abandoned, living deep in despair, yet he prays.

This teaches us that prayer is the only way that we can cope when all is darkness.

A strange fact. Evil is transformed into good when it drives us to prayer.

My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me.

Jesus cried out on the cross showing that He, as a Man, also plumbed the depths of despair. As our Saviour, He shared our sorrow and suffering. Thus He understands us in our desolation and discouragement.

That was the darkest hour. When they buried Jesus they buried the hopes of the world. Death was so awfully final to mankind. A journey from which one did not return.

The only emotions of the disciples were gloom, despondency, sorrow, regret, and sadness. Dismal counsellors.

Emotions are short term.

They knew nothing of the resurrection that was coming.

Triumph and disaster boost us up or knock us down. Thus our emotions are like a yo-yo.

The joy of yesterday’s success is easily cancelled by the despair of today’s disaster.

Negative feelings make us vulnerable and weak. We feel ashamed to talk about them.

We listen to testimonies of success and miraculous help that others have experienced. Then we fail and feel like failures. We smile and put on a pretence of coping but underneath we hurt and mourn when we are alone.

Our emotions motivate and direct our behaviour.

Pride can make us continue in the wrong direction. Unhappiness, given to us as a test, can make us abandon the right direction.

But another positive is that wrestling with our emotions can make us better understand other people who are going through the same dilemma.

Too much success easily breeds arrogance.

Failure keeps us humble and better able to understand others who have failed. Failure helps us to be meeker with others who are weaker. Helps us to think a little more of others and a little less of “me”.

Humility is not thinking less of myself, it is just thinking of myself less.

Failure and a feeling of worthlessness help me to take attention off myself as those attributes are not worth looking at.

When I stop thinking of myself, there is a better chance that I can catch the will of God. Because my will is not God’s will.

God says that I must die to myself.

I CORINTHIANS 15:31   ... I die daily.

A corpse has no emotions. So being emotional is not a good guide to the will of God.

Emotional pride makes us fear to be a loser. But God will only make us lose the things that were not good for us. A plant that is pruned down grows much better. The cutting process is painful but it is for our good in the long run.

We all carry much emotional baggage that God needs to cut away from us.

Our common sense, according to that wise man Einstein, is simply the prejudices that we have picked up by the time we are eighteen. Thus much of what we know is not worth knowing. God needs to knock this out of us.

Suppressing our emotions do not help as they tend to resurface later.

We need to replace emotional negativity with something that is more definite.

Prayer and Scripture are the fountains of faith. We would not bother to pray if we felt that God was never going to answer. So the desire to pray is the spark that re-ignites our faith.

Faith trusts in what God does, not in what we do.

Jonah had no hope in the storm. He asked to be thrown overboard because he knew that the storm was to drive him back to God. Somehow God would intervene even though Jonah had no clue as to what God would do. So deep down Jonah activated his faith in God. Faith is the antidote that alone can cure hopelessness.

HEBREWS 11:1   Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The big lesson here is that faith produces hope.

Jonah did not try to tell God how to help him. Jonah simply trusted God to do whatever God wanted.

Often our lack of hope is the direct result of us telling God what we want and then we do not get it.

We assumed that what we wanted was the best thing for us.

We must learn to let God answer in His own way, which will usually be different from our way.

Faith believes that God will answer, but more than likely in some very different way to what we wanted.

That is how faith defeats despair.

If it does not happen the way I wanted, then faith says it will happen some other way. Thus we wait in expectation rather than disillusion when our specific door or opportunity does not open.

The Lord’s prayer tells us to first focus on God’s kingdom.

MATTHEW 6:10   Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

What happens on earth will only be successful when it reflects what happens in heaven. Thus we need to know the Bible in order to know God’s heavenly will.

MATTHEW 6:33   But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

We seek the kingdom of God by knowing what is in the Bible because this tells us what to believe for our modern age. Once we believe and follow Scripture, then God will add to us the things or opportunities that we need. These may well be very different to what we want.

ROMANS 8:28    And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

If we love God then nothing goes wrong.

This is one of the hardest lessons of faith for us to learn.

Whatever happens, good or bad, it is for our benefit.

If we feel that it is wrong, we are simply aiming at the wrong goal.

Levi took thick canvas to make tents for the goldfields of California. But the miners had tents. He despaired as his canvas remained unsold. So he changed his goals and made jeans for them. The thick material never wore out, so he became famous and rich for his Levis Jeans.

PHILIPPIANS 4:11   Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Emotions make us happy or sad with our circumstances.

But Faith made Paul happy with any circumstance. Look what he went through.

II CORINTHIANS 11:23   Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool ) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.

:24     Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.

:25     Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;

:26     In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

:27   In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

When he endured all this, what did he say about his sufferings?

II CORINTHIANS 4:17   For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;

A light affliction. A minor inconvenience. So his faith gave him a viewpoint that made him unconquerable. Why?

I THESSALONIANS 3:3   That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. How did faith look at these disasters?

He knew that God was in charge of his life and nothing could happen to him unless God permitted it.

Hardship tests us. Hardship toughens us. Paul was so tough that the Devil could do nothing to defeat him. When Paul arrived anywhere, the Devil just felt defeated. It was the Devil who despaired.

The great secret of faith is that faith believes that God is in control.

If we live godly lives then God will look after us and we can afford then to be content with our circumstances. Even if our circumstances are not what we want, nevertheless faith allows us to accept them with contentment. This is what God has provided.

I TIMOTHY 6:6   But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Faith makes us take our eyes off ourselves.

When we look deep into our own lives we are not happy with what we see. Emotionally we become distraught.

So if we focus on serving God according to Scripture and helping others, then we take our eyes off ourselves and our own selfishness.

Rich people are seldom happy.

It is well known that money cannot buy happiness.

We soon become bored with what we bought. It no longer gives us the same thrill because emotions are short term feelings that lack permanence.

We do not find happiness when we look for it. Nor can we buy it.

We find happiness when we forget about ourselves and start helping others.

There are always others with bigger problems than our own.

You can only find happiness when you stop looking for it.

DEUTERONOMY 28:2   And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee,

The real blessings of God, like happiness, overtake us. That means they come up from behind.

They cannot be pursued when they are our goal that we are chasing.

So the real blessings of God are nothing that we can chase after in our own strength. God will send these blessings to us without us knowing that they are coming. They will not necessarily be anything that we sought, because you never see something that overtakes you from behind. You only see what is in front of you.

Emotions control you when you seek your own goals.

Even if you secure the job that you sought, it does not mean that you will be happy in the job. So your emotions let you down again. Unhappiness is a negative emotion.

But being content with what you have and allowing God to add in unexpected ways enables you to live a life of faith. Faith makes you content, whatever the circumstances.

Contentment is a positive emotion that the Devil cannot upset.

As long as you are content then your emotions are under control because faith rules your mind rather than despair ruling your thoughts.

ACTS 14:22   Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.

Faith gets us through the tribulations of this life.

Faith means our eyes are on Jesus and the Bible, not on our successes or failures.

Faith in Scripture is a much better counsellor than emotion.

Faith is a solid foundation. Emotion is a temporary ripple on the surface.

The Psalm of Hopelessness. Psalm 88.

What happens when we surrender to our feelings of despair. How negative emotion erodes our hopes and undermines our faith.

PSALM 88:1   A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth, Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite. O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:

The only positive aspect of this Psalm is that he feels that he must pray.

PSALM 88:2    Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;

A determination to pray is the one method he has to overcome his hopelessness.

PSALM 88:3    For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.

His circumstances have robbed him of any hope in this life.

PSALM 88:4    I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:

The misfortunes of my life are so big that I feel like I am already dead.

PSALM 88:5   Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

I feel abandoned by God. Cut off from Him as He does not answer my prayer. So I may as well be dead and buried and forgotten.

PSALM 88:6    Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.

The depths of despair. No light. No chance of escape.

When we give into our state of emotional turmoil then it is as if there is no hope but the grave.

PSALM 88:7    Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

When things go wrong it is easy to feel that it is God’s judgement that sweeps over our lives in waves.

More and more goes wrong. We feel that God’s anger is directed at us.

PSALM 88:8   Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

Isolated from friends, perhaps by a loathsome disease. Abandoned. Rejected. Lonely.

PSALM 88:9    Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.

He is dismally sad. But each day he reaches out to God in prayer and supplication. That is the one good sign.

PSALM 88:10    Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.

Why kill me God? Can I praise you when I am dead?

PSALM 88:11   Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Can I testify of your good works when I am in a grave?

PSALM 88:12    Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

The dead are forgotten. The grave is dark. What use am I to God there?

PSALM 88:13    But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.

Again, a positive note to combat his utter despair. He perseveres in prayer.

PSALM 88:14   LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?

When things go very wrong we immediately believe that God has forsaken us.

PSALM 88:15   I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.

Emotional upset is a distraction. When our minds are disturbed, we cannot concentrate on anything positive.

PSALM 88:16   Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.

The anger of God is terrifying.

PSALM 88:17   They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together.

Despair makes us feel that God is endlessly punishing us.

PSALM 88:18   Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.

No friends. No one loves me. The emotional darkness of utter loneliness.

The terribly sad legacy of what happens to us when we take counsel of our emotions and feelings when life is going very wrong.

Emotions cannot be trusted when we are under severe stress.

This Psalm shows the inability of emotions to cope with real-life disasters.

The man was too absorbed in his own real-life problems and thus could see no hope.

The only way to cope with life is thus to build on the sure foundation of faith.

Instead of just looking at my problems, I must learn to look away to Jesus.

EPHESIANS 2:20   And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

The apostles wrote the New Testament. The prophets wrote the Old Testament.

Both these Testaments point to Jesus Christ who is our only hope. We cannot save ourselves.

Jesus died for us. There was nobody who could die for Him.

Even if we die in darkness and despair, yet the morning of the resurrection cometh.

Whatever happens now, the eye of faith sees the new Heaven and the new Earth.

Then all our present tribulations and afflictions will be forgotten.

Our hope lies in the future, not in our present circumstances.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” — 1 Corinthians 16:23