Waiting for God While in the Darkness

Dr. Brian Allison

I went to visit one of our friends. She had admitted herself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital. She apparently was going through a very dark period in her life. She was extremely depressed. The reason why she admitted herself was because she was suicidal. She feared what she might do to herself, if she did not receive some kind of medical help and supervision. When I visited her, I sat across the table from her in an interview room, and she appeared pathetic, weak, and miserable, lacking stability, and appearing overwhelmed. This friend is a professing Christian; she works in a Christian organization; her husband trained to be a pastor. Yet, she was passing through deep waters in her life, and she was drowning.

Have you ever passed through a dark period, through a period in which the waters were really deep, and you were not treading, but rather you were sinking, and sinking fast? Do you know what it is like to feel crushing depression, to feel like you are in a deep pit in which everything is absolutely black and bleak, in which everything seems utterly hopeless? This kind of an experience is not something that is peculiar simply to those who are weak willed. Even those who seem to have a strong faith may experience times of spiritual and emotional darkness, desperate times in which they do not even want to live. This was the sad case of William Cowper (1731-1800), the poet and hymnist. He wrote some very meaningful and powerful hymns, such as the one that begins: "There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel's veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains." Though a very gifted writer, Cowper was constantly afflicted with excruciating depression. His life was a constant continuum of darkness. C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), the great Baptist preacher of the last century, had bouts of depression. His church would house thousands at a typical worship service. He was used of the Lord to lead thousands to the saving knowledge of Christ; but often his life was characterized with darkness. Do you know what that experience is like? Have you ever been there?

Psalm 130 is a psalm of darkness; its contents exude bleakness, though the rays of the light of hope do peer through. The psalm has four basic divisions: 1) The psalmist's pain and plea (vv. 1,2); 2) God's justice and forgiveness (vv. 3,4); 3) Patiently waiting for God's healing grace (vv. 5,6); 4) Confidently expecting God's glorious deliverance (vv. 7,8).

The pain and the plea

The psalmist begins, "Out of the depths I have cried to Thee, O LORD" (v. 1). The term 'depths' often refers to a state of sorrow or grief. It communicates the picture of excruciating pain, unbearable disturbance. The psalmist finds himself in the midst of the most horrendous emotional and spiritual anguish. Out of this pit of anguish, he cries to the Lord. Now, these depths, out of which the psalmist cries, are characterized by sin. So, we further read, "If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared...And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities" (vv. 3, 4, 8). The psalmist feels the weight of the pain of his guilt and shame. He feels the weight of the pain of his fear of judgement and condemnation. We are not told how he has sinned, or how he has offended God, but the blackness of his sin has consumed him. He is utterly devastated.

The psalmist's cry is the natural expression of his deep anguish; and notice that he cries to the Lord. He realizes that God alone can aid him in his present perplexity. We further read in verse 2, "Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." The psalmist pours out his heart to God. Do you notice the psalmist's insistence – "hear my voice...be attentive to...my supplication"? The psalmist is obviously overcome with his desolation. Now, notice from the language that, at this point, God does not seem to be listening to him. The psalmist urgently supplicates; he desperately begs God to answer him. But God is silent. This is a truth we should never forget – there will be times when you are in the throes of emotional pain and spiritual anguish, and you will desperately cry out to the Lord for relief, and it will seem like God is not listening. All will be silent. The silence of God will merely intensify the anguish. But remember, it is when you are broken and humbled, and have come to the end of yourself, feeling your appalling weakness and hopelessness, and you cry in desperation, that God is often pleased to hear. Desperation is a powerful argument for securing the ear of God; but He may leave you in your darkness for a season.

Notice the form of the psalmist's cry. He pleads, "Lord, hear my voice! Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." The psalmists cries aloud; he audibly supplicates. He does not mentally pray. Here is a man pouring out his heart to God. He has no other recourse; he has no other refuge. If God does not hear him, he is finished, he is lost. God delights in hearing the voice of His people – the gushing forth of the soul.

The justice and mercy

The psalmist feels the weight of God's righteousness and law, which exposes and highlights the horrid reality of his sin. – "If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (v. 3). The psalmist acknowledges that he is a sinner; he owns up to his own evil. He is honest about his immoral condition. He admits that he has sinned. Acknowledgement of sin is the first step on the road to spiritual healing. In our confession of wrongdoing, being ruthlessly honest with God, we prepare the way for the Lord's coming in grace and mercy. God delights in the contrite and humble heart.

The psalmist reflects on the justice of God. He considers his own condition, and he generalizes his experience. He understands the general condition of humanity by examining his own wretched heart, and he inquires, "If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" The psalmist knew that he stood condemned in the presence of a righteous God. He did not white-wash his sin, he did not sweep it under the carpet, he did not justify himself, saying, "Oh, that was just a human error." In a very real sense, the psalmist affirms, "I am the man! I am guilty." The psalmist realized that there is not a single soul that has lived perfectly, that can say that he or she is free from sin; everyone stands judged and condemned before God. At different times, God is pleased to bring such stark darkness into our lives – to let us feel the crushing weight of our own sinfulness – not only to get our attention and to awaken us to righteousness, but to break our hearts so that we feel our awful desperation, and thus realize that we have absolutely no one to turn to but God. He is pleased to strip us of our independence so that we then may acknowledge our absolute dependence on Him.

The psalmist says, "If Thou, LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" That is, "Lord, if You should keep track of all sins, and exacted justice for them, who would be able to say that they stand as truly righteous, and thus are exempt from judgement?" The implied answer to the question is, "No one." We all stand judged and condemned before God. We all have fallen far short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, not even one.

Though everyone stands condemned for his or her personal sin, and though God would be perfectly just to exact justice for our sins, He is pleased to pardon us – "But there is forgiveness with Thee" (v. 4a). God is a God of justice, but He is also a God of mercy. It is because of His lovingkindness, His compassion, that we are not consumed in His wrath. There is a way of escape, there is a way of release and acceptance in order that we might have right standing with God. God would be just to send all of us to hell, but He delights in forgiveness. That is the Gospel; that is our salvation and hope. It does not matter what we have done, it does not matter how angry God has become, there is forgiveness of sins. I do not know what wrong you have done, what immoral situations in which you have been; I do not know what has caused you to be riddled with guilt and overcome with shame, but regardless of the sin, God offers forgiveness – "There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose ALL their guilty stains." God forgives out of His love and His mercy. He provides a way of escape for unclean sinners.

God's forgiveness has a particular design in view – "But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared" (v. 4). When we receive mercy, and experience the grace of forgiveness – if we truly understand and appreciate what God has done – our attitude and approach to God changes. Our hearts are softened and are awakened to righteousness so that we are compelled to worship God and serve Him because of His goodness to us, by pardoning us from all our iniquities. Forgiveness should give way to reverential worship. Further, in being pardoned of our sin – the guilt and the shame – and having our hearts set free, we ought to fear the Lord and to flee from sin – "By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil" (Prov. 16:6). The forgiveness of sin ought to lead to the desire to be free from sin – to please God.

God is not against you, Christian, He is for you. There is forgiveness of sins with Him. You may think that you have committed a sin that is unpardonable. I do not know the depth of your emotional pain and spiritual anguish, but I do know that there is sufficient forgiveness for you. There is forgiveness with a look, in faith, at the Crucified One.

Patiently waiting

The psalmist patiently waits for God's restorative grace in his heart. In his period of darkness, he has reminded himself – which would serve to sustain his soul in the darkness – of the merciful ways of God, and what God is pleased to do. He has endeavoured to console himself in the midst of his anguish, least he be swallowed up by it. And on this backdrop, he proceeds to share his present posture – "I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope" (v. 5). In his appalling desolation, the psalmist's faith shines through. The darkness has not quashed his confidence in the faithfulness of God.

It is quite easy to give up in the face of misfortune and tragedy, and to bawl, "Lord, the pain is too great. I do not know if I can persevere. Lord, why do I have to go through this struggle? Lord, why don't You hear me? Lord, don't You see that I am hurting?" It is quite easy to give up when times become tough; but the psalmist doesn't give up. He clings to God in hope. In understanding the mercy of God, and what God is pleased to do, the psalmist's hope is fueled. He says, "I wait." If you have not experienced spiritual-emotional darkness, or are not in such darkness now, one day you most likely will be. I experienced such darkness in my second year of seminary. I was training to be a pastor. I believed that I was in the centre of God's will. I was preparing to be a servant and preacher of the Gospel. I was studying diligently to serve Christ. Surely, God would have been pleased with that, and would have graced me with blessing. It was then, in that spiritual context (in pursuing God, in training for the ministry, in studying the Bible, in reading theology books, in being consumed with the things of the kingdom) that God sent darkness into my life – an overwhelming, crushing sense of evil in my own heart, an excruciating experience of the sin lurking in my own heart. Horrendous, gut-wrenching thoughts plagued my mind. The psychological pain was unbearable. I would not even wish such pain on my enemies. In my study, I would be prostrate on the floor, crying out to God for mercy. And do you know what? He left me there, and He left me there for some time. I waited, and waited, and waited. Sometimes you will have to wait in the darkness. It is easy to give up, it is easy to complain, it is easy to blame God, but God wants us to wait.

The psalmist patiently waited in faith – "I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope" (v. 5). He would not give up; he would persevere. The repetition underscores his commitment and resolve. He patiently waits because he knows the truth about God, and he anchors his soul in His Word. Not only has he made reference to the ways of God, but he here makes reference to the Word of God. He trusts in God's Word. Similarly, you will have to trust in God's Word in your times of darkness. I had to do this during my season of darkness. In my anguish, I did not feel the power and joy of God's Word. I read and meditated on God's Word, and I felt little comfort. In fact, the more that I read and meditated on God's Word, the deeper became my pain. And yet, I knew the truth of God's Word, often battling in my own mind to believe it, engaging in self-talk and reminding myself of its promises. But I felt no power, no consolation, from the Word; yet, I continued to hope in it. Remember, it does not matter how you feel, God has said it and it is true. You have to hold on to His Word in the darkness. We could also translate this phrase, "And for His word do I hope." Often in the darkness, we simply want to hear a word from God. We may bemoan, "Lord, speak just one word. Break the silence, please. Lord, my faith is wavering, just give me one word." And sometimes God isn't even ready to do that. Yet, the Judge of all the earth will do right.

The psalmist exclaims, "My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning" (v. 6). Again, the repetition underscores the psalmist's commitment and resolve. Do you see the significance of this picture? You who have to work nightshift know the tedium, the nauseating boredom, when there is little work to do. It is tough enough enduring a dayshift under those conditions let alone a night shift. On a nightshift, under such circumstances, one can hardly wait until the morning comes. There is agonizing anticipation. You wait and wait, and the minutes seem like hours. Now, think of someone who is a sentinel on guard. It is lonely and quiet. There is no other activity; and he walks back and forth, back and forth, longing for the morning. But such longing does not compare to that of the psalmist. The psalmist anxiously waits for the coming of God with grace and healing – the full experience of sins forgiven and joy restored.

Confident expectation

The psalmist moves from reflection and affirmation to exhortation – "O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption" (v. 7). Do not miss the implied truth here – the psalmist is not self-absorbed with his own pain in the midst of his darkness. But rather, he is outward focused. Out of his own confidence of faith, while feeling deep anguish, he considers others and ministers to them. Being other-focused will help you to persevere through the darkness. If you are absorbed with your own pain, you will sink, and sink fast. On the basis of your confidence in the Word of God, you must minister to others out of your darkness. Such a resolve will counter the darkness, and lessen its grip.

The psalmist exhorts Israel, "All may be dark, all may be bleak, but hope in the Lord, trust in God, for He does not change." In understanding who God is, one can hope in Him. The psalmist provides reasons to Israel – the people of God – why they are to hope in the Lord. He points to the nature and character of God. That is a strong foundation – "For with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption" (v. 7b). The psalmist never loses his focus concerning who God is; that is his anchor. Situations change, circumstances change, but God does not change; and though it seems like all hell is breaking loose, He is still a God of love and of mercy; and this truth will keep one sane in the darkness.

The psalmist points to the lovingkindness of the Lord. God's lovingkindness is His covenantal commitment. He is committed to His people. He has pledged Himself to do His people good. Not only does God care for His people, but "with Him is abundant redemption." God is pleased to deliver again and again. It does not matter what the circumstances are, He will show us the fullness and wonder of His salvation. God is abundantly able to redeem and render us acceptable in His sight. He never fails. He will accomplish His saving purposes in our lives. When was the last time you considered God's track record? How soon we forget – God has a perfect track record.

In concluding, the psalmist reaches a marvelous crescendo of faith. Not only is God able to deliver, but He will – "And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities" (v. 8). In this faith and confidence, the psalmist is able to persevere in the most horrendous kind of darkness. Do you believe the words of this psalm? You may say, "Well, God is able to be gracious, and He is by nature loving and kind;" but can you go further and affirm, "God will redeem His people from all, all, all his iniquities?" This psalm presents to us the Gospel. What a tremendous source of encouragement! Do not forget in the darkness, what God has told you in the light. His Word changes not. He is not only able to deliver you, He will deliver you from the guilt and shame of your sin; and He will put a new song in your heart, even praises to God. I have discovered that you cannot know and appreciate the heights of comfort and peace until you have first experienced the depths of pain and anguish; and proportional to your depths of anguish, will be your heights of joy, according to the wisdom and working of God. That is His way. There is always life out of death, and joy out of sorrow, and glory out of shame. Be encouraged. God is for you.