Bible Discussion Tim Keller: Psalms 88, Going Through Dark Times


Senior Member
Staff member
Sep 27, 2005
There are my notes from Pastor Tim Keller's talk on Psalms 88, Going Through Dark Times.

Almost all of the psalms end on a note of hope. Not this one. (There are two psalms that don’t, Psalm 39, Psalm 88).

Psalms 88:1-18 Darkness shows up 3 times, including at the end. In Hebrew, it ends “my only friend is darkness.”
  1. Darkness can remain for a long time. Clearly facing death. If we don’t know what the exact circumstances, it’s easier to make those problems our own. He feels like God has abandoned him, both outward and inward darkness. You can be a believing Christian and yet remain in darkness for a long time. It’s a downer, but it’s a mercy, too. He quoted THE PRINCESS BRIDE. “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” Christianity is realistic and isn’t selling you anything. “I’m a Christian and bad things can’t happen to me.” But that’s not what happened to Jesus. John “In this world you will have trouble.” False expectations are a big part of it. Knowing this can help you face troubles.

  2. The dark times are the best time to find God. (He comes close to saying ‘Answer me, God!’ He’s not being respectful, no ‘thy will be done.’ ‘From my youth…’ “All my life I’ve been in danger of death…” This is almost certainly an exaggeration. “You’ve never been there for me!” “Darkness is my closest friend.” ‘God, darkness is more of a comfort than you are.’ Why is this prayer in the Bible? Two sentences in a commentary from Derek Kidner: “The very presence of these prayers in scripture is a witness of God’s understanding. God knows how Men speak when they are desperate.” God put these prayers there. It tells us a great deal! God does identify with those of us who sometimes pray like this! “I am the God of this man even though he’s not getting it right.” He’s a God of grace! (This is incredibly liberating.)

  3. Dark times are the best places to become a person of greatness. While he’s saying things that are insulting, he is saying them to God. Consider the book of Job. “Does Job serve God for nothing?” ‘Job is in a transactional relationship with you because of his proximity to you. He doesn’t love you for you, he’s loving himself and using you. Take away those things. Give him inner darkness and outer darkness and you’ll see him curse you.” We all want to be loved for who we are instead of being used. The book of Job was written for everyone to read. Satan is saying this about us. Do we really love God for Himself? Is Satan right about you? The honest answer is ‘to some degree, yeah - at least we start out that way.’ We go to God because we want something. If we stay in that state, we’ll be up and down depending on how things are going, a certain self-centeredness. After Job says all these terrible things, God says ‘Job has honored me and you have not.’ Why does God say that? Because they were prayers. He was being angry and complaining TO GOD. He never turned away from God. He stayed with God even when he was getting nothing out of it. This man was saying ‘Darkness is my only friend,’ but he was saying it to God, and Satan was defeated. Even when we don’t feel God is there, when we continue to pray and go to church and love our neighbor, that will turn us into a person of stability, of greatness. “But even as hope dies in Sam, or seemed to die…” In the darkness, we throw away the transactional approach. Are we a Christian for God to serve us or for us to serve Him. “Ok, I’m going to love you, I’m going to serve you,” it’s gonna change you.

  4. Darkness can be relativized. He believed his darkness we objective and permanent. He believed his darkness was absolute, not relative. But we know he’s wrong. His suffer was actually temporary and God was there for him. The write of this song was ‘Heman.’ 1 Chronicles 6. There in the 40s in the Psalms and the 80s. The Psalms are some of the greatest literary works in the history of the world regardless of your faith. His other writings have been read by many millions of people. His coal was turned to diamond. He couldn’t see it but we can. God was there, God was working, it was temporary. God turned him into something special that endures for centuries. The end of Psalm 39, God’s face is turned away. The end of Psalm 88, just darkness. Matthew 27:35. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had the total darkness Heman was feeling. Only Jesus has received final darkness because He was taking the sins of Mankind upon Himself. Jesus Christ experienced darkness as His only friend so you can know… When a paralyzed woman was asked how she was doing, she said ‘Nothing that the Resurrection won’t cure.’

Jesus was actually abandoned so we’ll only feel abandoned. Heman asked ‘Do the dead rise up and praise you?’

The answer is ‘actually, yeah.’

Wes B

Mostly Harmless
Jul 28, 2019
Thanks for sharing. Tim Keller had numerous thoughtful things to share, and many of us will miss him deeply.

Just as a bit of Bible trivia... I'd suspect that the very darkest point in the psalms comes at the end of Psalm 137. I've seen multiple ways that people have set its earlier verses to music, but no one ever gets to the final two. I'm no theologian, but I'd also suspect that these are there to show us the deepest, darkest, bitterest feelings felt by those captive in Babylon. It seems to offer no answers right there, but perhaps shows us that even in the deepest of despair, others before us have shared our pain...

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