In these times, many people all around the world are experiencing challenging times, dark times, with the pandemic of 2020. The biblical writers knew times of great isolation, confusion, and loneliness, as the Psalms in particular evidence.
Dr. Ligon Duncan’s new book, When Pain Is Real And God Seems Silent: Finding Hope in the Psalms, originated as a sermon series that he preached at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. In this now published format, Duncan helpfully traces Psalms 88-89, considering how to cry out and respond to suffering by casting ourselves upon our heavenly Father. He says the tone of Psalm 88 is “dark” and “describes what many Christians know to be true Christians face troubles, often abiding, intractable ones” (15).
The author explains Psalm 88 and the Christian life when he says, “Some believers endure enormous suffering and still maintain their commitment to the Lord. God’s grace sustains us, even in the darkest hours, so that we never give up” (24). Twenty-three years ago, my wife lost her father in a murder homicide, and then in 2005 years ago, she lost her mother to stage four cancer. Being the big sister, it left her as the de facto parent and leader of the family. She quickly learned as she led her siblings in their early teens, the truth that Duncan writes about: “God’s grace sustains us even in the darkest hours, so we never give up.” She also learned what Duncan says on page 25, “Psalms like this one teach us to share in one another’s suffering and to bear one another’s burdens.” Her parents’ deaths have caused my wife to know joy (James 1:2-3) in a compelling way that helps her to identify with hurting people and walk alongside them with the compassion and care of Christ.
Walking alongside one another in times of trouble can be challenging. As pressures increase and anxieties rise, we need to hear what Duncan’s says:
“Take comfort from the fact that the sufferings of this life are the worst you will ever endure. If you know Christ and have come to him in faith and repentance, then your suffering has an end. The trials of this life are the worst thing you will ever endure” (28).
The author explains, “Psalm 88 may be the darkest psalm in the Psalter, but because of the work of Jesus Christ, there is hope even here that will never go out” (30). Dark times often test us and challenge us, but through Christ, we can find joy. The author further explains:
“The Psalms give us words to express joy, loss, anxiety, fear, sadness, thankfulness and grief. They put words to the deepest feelings of our heart and even teach us how to sing those feelings back to God Himself” (36).
In my own experience, as the Lord ministered to me after my parents’ divorce, the Psalms brought comfort and instruction to my soul. Through praying the Psalms, the Lord used them to “bring the deepest feelings of our heart and teach us how to sing those feelings back to God Himself” (36). It’s not just our “feelings” that matter, as the author says, “God is worthy of our worship simply because of who he is. Our worship is ultimately rooted in his character, not our circumstances” (41).
Dr. Duncan then helpfully guides us through Psalm 89, helping readers understand three doctrines that help in times of suffering. These are the doctrine of election (44), the covenant of grace (45), and the sovereignty of God (47). Lastly, the author hits a beautiful gospel note at the end of the book, saying, “Whatever suffering we may encounter, the gospel can carry us through it” (52).
Ours is a day where real people, like my wife and I and many others, have experienced a significant amount of pain. By drawing on the intense suffering of the Psalmist, Duncan has provided a helpful guide in this book to help readers facing the darkest of circumstances with hope in the Lord.
For some people suffering seems intent to break them in half while leading others to the dungeon of unbelief. As Duncan unfolds Psalm 88-89, he shows us how not to let suffering break us by trusting in the Lord who is never silent, and who is always faithful to His revealed character in His Word. Whether you have faced challenging times in the past or are in the present, this book has biblical, gospel-focused, and practical help for you.
When Pain Is Real And God Seems Silent Finding Hope in the Psalms is a feast for suffers and will be a help to those who walk alongside them. Please pick up and read this book to learn not only how to face your suffering, but also how to grow through it, and walk alongside others facing suffering with the hope Jesus alone can provide.
Dave Jenkins (MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the executive editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, or read more of his writing at Servants of Grace