The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of challenges. Some people are dying. Others are helpless as one of their loved ones is dying. Still others are unable to visit friends and family in the hospital regardless of whether the issue is related to COVID-19. Some are furloughed, some may lose their business, and others may not have a job when this is over.
For some, the challenges associated with COVID-19 are inconvenient. For others, they mean life will never be the same.
When we think of the biblical writers crying out to God, we often think that their problems will be resolved. Job, for example, is granted a second family with greater wealth than the first. Job’s suffering was a nightmare, but morning dawned. David sinned with Bathsheba, but they also had Solomon and the line of Christ flows through this situation. Paul is wrongfully imprisoned but is released for two additional years of productive ministry. In fact, the suffering we find in Scripture is often resolved with a message of hope.
But the Bible not only speaks about resolution from suffering whether by death (Romans 8:18) or by victory (Job 42), but also about suffering that simply ends in darkness.
The dawn never comes
Let us consider Psalm 88: a Psalm about darkness.
O LORD, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. 2 Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry! 3 For my soul has had enough troubles, And my life has drawn near to Sheol. 4 I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, 5 Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand.
The psalmist describes something awful. He repeatedly and continually (day and night!) called out to the Lord. However, he remains a man without strength. He is like a dead man except death does not come to relieve him of his suffering. He lives a difficult existence.
No resolution, but God is still in the picture
It is not unusual to find this kind of talk in the Bible. However, unlike many other passages, there is no resolution. Consider the next words:
You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths. 7 Your wrath has rested upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah. 8 You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out. 9 My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O LORD; I have spread out my hands to You. Psa. 88:6
These verses offer no resolution and no hope. In spite of that circumstance, the psalmist continues to believe in the sovereignty of God. Rather than act as if God were sleeping or uninvolved, he clearly places God in His rightful place in the universe. The loneliness, the isolation, the tears, and the betrayals are part of his life. Rather than turn his back on God, he continues to turn towards Him.
Again, we are waiting for the resolution. God is going to rescue the day for sure. God is going to restore whatever is broken and this man will be free to rejoice. That is not how the psalm ends.
Psalm 88 ends in darkness
10 Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. 11 Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? 13 But I, O LORD, have cried out to You for help, And in the morning my prayer comes before You. 14 O LORD, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? 15 I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on; I suffer Your terrors; I am overcome. 16 Your burning anger has passed over me; Your terrors have destroyed me. 17 They have surrounded me like water all day long; They have encompassed me altogether. 18 You have removed lover and friend far from me; My acquaintances are in darkness.
This psalm ends with the writer in the same condition as in the beginning. Terrors are like water; they are everywhere. Lovers and friends, even acquaintances remain hidden. Then the psalm ends. Can you believe that? The psalm actually ends. Where is the hope? Where is the resolution? When does the Lord come to the rescue?
Friends, please notice this: the message of hope is not at the end of Psalm 88. It is not the restoration of fortunes. It is not abundant blessing.
The basic message is this: when the challenges never end, hold on to the Lord and do not let go.
Never let go. Never let go. Right about the time your hands seem to slip, grab tighter and never let go.
Suffering that does not end will tempt you to do that. It will tempt you to stop asking, to stop reading your Bible, to stop attending church services, to stop serving others in the body, and to stop seeking to influence others for the cause of Christ. Suffering tempts you to become a functional atheist. When the Lord does not answer with relief, the temptation is to shrink your life to the size of your suffering.
I hope your suffering is short. I hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But I also know that sometimes the Lord reminds us that this world will never satisfy by allowing our lives to be filled with unending suffering. That is what He may be using to draw our hearts closer to Christ. It shows us our need and demonstrates that only in Jesus can we ultimately be rescued from our sin and our belief that life should be easy and pleasant.
Maybe what is needed most for you is to recognize that COVID-19 or not, this world can never give you all that you need. Now is the time to repent and trust in the finished work of Jesus for your salvation.
Christian friend, maybe the Lord is allowing you to be stripped to your core to see what you really love and what you really value. Maybe this suffering that never ends is what the Lord will use to show you that He is enough even when He is unwilling to remove the pain.