We live in a world where so many crave spiritual connection. And why do they? What do they want? Maybe they want peace or contentment. Maybe they yearn to find a sense of meaning in a world where things can seem so empty of meaning. Heck, maybe they just want to feel better, happier; healthier. And heck, why not? Who wouldn’t want to have all of those things and more? And yes, connection with God can and will bring you all of that, and more.
But here’s the reality that many don’t want to face. A lot of times, the path to that more will take you though some really hard places along the way. You may need to go way down before you can rise up. You will have times that you go through a lot of darkness, before you even see a glimmer of light.
So what do you do when those times come? How do you hold on till the light dawns? How do you let God work even in the dark, even when you have no sense that God is even there? In this the darkest, most downcast passage in the entire Bible, God shows you the way. Let’s hear what God has to say.
How do you hold on in the midst of the deepest darkness? How do you not only survive such times, but come through stronger on the other side? How do you hold on to hope, to faith, to a sense of God’s love when you wonder if God is even there? In these very dark words, God shows us the way. You hold on by remembering that darkness comes, but that darkness cannot last, that in the deepest places of despair, where even God seems gone, that God has not; that in those moments, just the desire for God can be enough.
In the Bible’s songbook, called naturally the Psalms, out of 150 songs, you have one that offers no hope whatsoever. You have lots that talk about hard times, but always you have a turning point, where hope, even deliverance comes. But in this psalm, you get nothing. If anything, it gets worse and worse as you go along. In fact, did you notice? It literally ends in darkness. The word darkness is the very last word of the song.
What is going on here? How can such a song even be in the Bible? It can be there, because life can and does carry such darkness. The Bible never takes you away from reality. It gets you in deeper touch with reality. And this song reflects reality, even though it’s a reality, that we’d all like to avoid. But how does it help us?
It helps us first of all because it punctures any illusion that we might have that a life with God always abounds in sweetness and light. It tempers our expectations, and that’s a good thing. Yes, you can pray and pray, like this man does here, and still find yourselves in a very dark place. And in this song this writer finds himself in that place both outwardly and inwardly. He is facing terribly hard things in the circumstances of his life. He has lost friends and family, and on top of that, he himself is coming close to death. But beyond that, inside, he has lost touch with God. You can almost withstand whatever hits you on the outside, if you at least feel connected to God on the inside. But to lose that on top of outward loss and heartbreak, I can’t even imagine. I don’t want to. But this man is dealing with exactly that, devastation around him, and devastation inside him. He is praying to God, and getting absolutely nothing in return.
What is God telling us through this man’s awful despair? God is saying. This can happen, even to Christians. Yes, the Bible tells us that God works everything, even the hardest things in our life for good. But the Bible also tells you that this side of heaven you may never know what that good is. You can do everything right, and still, as far as you see it, everything goes wrong. Now how does knowing that help?
It gives a reality check to your expectations. If before you went into a regular hotel room, somebody told you it was a honeymoon suite. Well, you’d go in, and think, this is awful. But if they told you, it was a prison cell, then, you’d go in, and think, well….this ain’t so bad. Here’s the point. It’s still the same room. It’s only your expectations that have changed.
And if you think that having a deep connection to God means your life is going to always be awesome, well, when hard times hit, it’s going to hit you, really, really hard. If you think, well, I’m a good person, why is this happening to me? Well, Jesus was a good person. And what happened to him? What makes you think it won’t happen to you?
False expectations can hurt you as much as any hard thing that happens to you. But when hard things happen, this song shows you God can and will take your anger and despair. This song rips into God. The writer throws everything he has at God. And as he does it, he throws himself a huge pity party. Near the end, do you see what he says? From my youth, I have been close to death. Is that true? Probably not. But when you’re down in the dumps, you can end up seeing your whole life from that very dark place. And this guy is there. He is pretty much saying. God, you have never been there for me, ever. And then he goes further. He tells God. Heck, even darkness is a better friend than you. He is probably saying, the darkness of sleep, gives me more comfort than you ever have, God. That’s pretty harsh.
But that’s the point. In this song, God is telling you. Look, I get it. When your life really hits the skids, you’re likely to get really mad at me. You may even end up saying awful things to me. But guess what, when, it’s all over, I’ll still be your God, and you’ll still be my child. Nothing you can do or say will ever change my love for you ever.
But more than that, in those moments, even though, God’s love might seem to have gone. In reality, God’s love may be becoming greater than ever. When you’re in the dark place that this guy is, what does God’s love bring you? It brings you nothing. And that’s the point. In such a time as this, you’ll learn the answer to a crucial question. Will you love God for nothing?
You see, when anyone first comes to God, we come looking for something. We have a need, whatever it might be. And we yearn for God to fill it. And so God does. We find more meaning or hope. We get deliverance from a problem. We experience his love. But in the midst of that, one big question remains unanswered. Did we marry God for his money so to speak, for what God could give us? Or did we marry God for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow until death and beyond? Are we serving God out of love or are we serving God out of self-interest? When times like this guy is facing come, that question gets answered.
And how does this song answer it? It’s presence in the Bible tells us. Yes, this man is getting angry. Yes, he’s lashing out. But he’s lashing out to God. He’s bringing all this anger and bitterness to God. He has not walked away from the relationship. He still yearns for God, still desires God. He is loving God even when he has nothing to show for it.
Do you remember Mother Teresa? Whenever I saw her on the news or in some report from Calcutta, even through the screen, I could sense God’s presence shining through her. So when the priest who served as her spiritual advisor shared how for years she had lost any sense of God’s presence, it shocked me. He told of how Teresa yearned desperately for that presence to return, how deeply she mourned that loss. But still, even in that darkness, she never walked away. She never walked away from the rejected and poor of Calcutta. She never stopped praying and loving God. And in doing so, she showed how deep her love went. She loved God period. She loved God for nothing. And that level of love did something extraordinary in her and in our world.
And if you love God like that, it will do something extraordinary in you. Your prayer may be nothing but complaints. But it will still be prayer, and that will make all the difference. In times like that, even your desire for God, however flawed and feeble it is, will be enough.
And even in your darkness, God will be at work, even though you can’t see it. After all, the writer of this song didn’t see it. He acts as if this darkness will never end, that God has left the building never to return. But we have a perspective he didn’t have.
At the beginning of most of the psalms, it tells us who the author is. And this one does too. It tell us that a man called Heman wrote this song. And I Chronicles 6 tells us who Heman was. He was the leader of the Korahite guild of poets and musicians, who composed many of the most beautiful psalms of the Bible. So if Heman helped write these magnificent poems, he helped write some of the world’s greatest literary works. He wrote songs that have helped millions and millions of people over thousands of years. And that means that even in Heman’s darkness, God was at work, so much so that 2,500 years later, his darkness is still helping us. Heman thought his darkness was absolute, but it wasn’t. He thought God had utterly abandoned him, but God had not.
But in your darkness, you have more than just the perspective of Heman’s song. You have the perspective that comes from the One who did enter absolute darkness, who entered that darkness for you. You know the reality of the One who was utterly abandoned by God, who was utterly abandoned out of love for you. You see. Jesus got the ultimate darkness that Heman thought he got. Why did Jesus get that darkness? He got it so that you never would. He became utterly abandoned so that you would never be. Our self-centeredness, our selfishness, opened the door to a darkness that would destroy us. But in Jesus, God took that darkness on himself, so that even in our darkest moments, we can know that the light of God’s love has not left us.
Think about it. On that cross, the ultimate darkness descended on Jesus. And he could have walked away. He could have said, “No way. I’m not doing this. It’s not worth it.” But he didn’t. He stayed on that cross. He stayed in that darkness for us. If Jesus didn’t walk away from you when he faced his darkness, why would you think he would ever walk away from you when you face yours?
You know, as Mother Teresa struggled with her darkness, she came to see it as a gift. She felt that God had given her a chance to identify with Jesus so fully that she had been given just a glimpse of the abandonment he had faced on the cross for her. She felt that her suffering helped her identify more deeply than ever with the sick and wounded people she served, to see Jesus more than ever in their faces. And while she may not have sensed God’s presence, anyone who encountered her, even if was through a TV screen, could see how profoundly it was there.
In the middle of this prayer, in his despair, Heman asks this question of God. Is your steadfast love declared in the grave or your faithfulness in the place of the dead? And because of Jesus, we know the answer. Yes, God’s love is declared even there. Even the darkness of death cannot overcome the light of Jesus’ love for you. And because of that love, stronger than death, you can know. No matter how dark your life becomes, the light of Jesus’ love still shines. The Holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom, said it profoundly. She said. There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still.