You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
He sat in a chair not ten feet from his little son’s casket. But he would not look up.
People bent over to offer words of sympathy. But he would not look up.
Just days before, his eyes had sparkled as he held the child at a family gathering. Now, the light has gone away from his eyes. Only the darkness of grief was left. It would stay with him for a long time.
Shadows of that darkness were still there on the day he died.
It wasn’t that his faith had died. He still held fast to the promise of everlasting life for himself and the son he had brought to the baptismal font. But he spent the rest of his life as if never quite leaving the valley of the shadow of death.
He returned to work. He returned to the fellowship of friends and family. But he never returned to his old self. Darkness was now his closest friend.
The writer of Psalm 88 could have told him, “I know how you feel.”
Sorrow is often seen on the pages of Scripture. God does not deny that his people feel the depth of sorrow at times. Jesus wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even as he wept over the people of Jerusalem who had rejected the rescue he offered.
“O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33) Those were the words of King David, grieving for his son.
Sometimes, we see grief mixed with confusion bordering upon anger—anger toward God as the question of “Why?” rings out. The psalmist points to the Lord as the cause of his dark grief. “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths,” he complains.
He is in dire misery. Listen to his lament. “For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.” He felt the Lord had forgotten him—worse, that he was, “cut off from your care” (Psalm 88:3-5). His world had fallen apart.
If we have not experienced such pain of heart, we might question how it could exist in a person who knows death has been conquered, in a soul that clings to the Lord of life while awaiting the day of resurrection.
But Jesus understands. He warned his followers. “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.” Then he said, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20).
He never promised our lives would be carefree, never suggested that if only our faith was strong enough, we would live happily ever after—not until it is the ever after.
Psalm 88 is a dark psalm. But it begins with the bright beam of heavenly light, “O LORD, the God who saves me.” This message is repeated and stressed throughout Scripture. In another psalm, we hear from a grieving heart, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (Psalm 73:23,24).
In still another psalm, it is David who begins by calling out, “Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry”—and ends with this bold statement of confidence, “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:14).
That’s the way it was for people who turned to the Savior God for endless joy in heaven and blessed assurance on earth. He never failed them. He never will.
He knows how it feels to lose a loved one to death. Scripture points us to the Father and the death of his Son. The hymn calls out, “Oh sorrow dread! God’s Son is dead!” Were there tears in heaven on that Friday? Is that the reason for the strange darkness that fell at midday? Is this not the answer to our pain and sorrow?
Grief need not be despair. Faith can sustain a heavy heart. Tears of sorrow can mix with tears of joy.
Something to remember when we see another one weighed down with grief. Something to recall when the dark clouds of sorrow move into our lives.
With the apostle Paul, we can yet boast, “Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?” With all the people of God, we can joyfully proclaim, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
There is a light that penetrates even the deepest darkness. That grieving father who refused to look up now lives in that light. He has joined his precious son in the glory of God’s Son. The small casket is forgotten. Darkness is no longer his companion or friend.
Now, he can look up at his son and his Savior. Now, he would reassure us by declaring “What a friend we have in Jesus!”
Holy and gracious Lord God, keep our eyes fixed upon the glory that was won for us, the treasure that awaits us. Keep us in the grasp of Jesus, Friend of sinners. Amen.
Points to ponder:
- Why does it pain us to lose loved ones to death even though we know they have entered the bliss of heaven?
- How can darkness invade our lives even if we are a child of the heavenly Father?
- Why might Jesus have wept over the grave of Lazarus even though he knew Lazarus would walk out of that tomb in just a few minutes?
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Stillwater, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.