The Irresistible Appeal Of A Sad Song

Read Psalm 88

Featured Verse: Psalm 88:1-3

A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
“O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.”

Country and Western music (they just call it “Country” these days) isn’t the only genre to have an over-abundance of sad songs. The truth is, all types of music have their fair share of lament. It may not be obvious at first, but the inspiration for so many of the songs we love have their origin in a broken heart or a dashed hope or a shattered dream.

The reason we keep coming back to sad songs time after time, generation after generation, millennium after millennium—and will continue to do so until sadness is banned from the created realm at the end of time—is because they work. As we listen to them, the singer skillfully pulls from us the very same raw-edged emotions of pain, loss, and disappointment contained in the song, and somehow magically, mysteriously, inextricably, we become a part of it. Strangely, a sad song done well make us even sadder—and we love it.

That’s what the psalm is doing here. He’s sad, and he has written a song about it that pulls us into the raw, jagged edge of his pain. This man despaired of death—perhaps from outside forces, or maybe from the inner pain of his heartbroken life. (Psalm 88:3) He felt abandoned by his closest friends, and all alone in the world. (Psalm 88:8,18). He was simply worn out with sorrow (Psalm 88:9) and was deeply disappointed with God for it. (Psalm 88:13-14) He had suffered a life-long devastation—with no relief in sight, and he was at a point of surrendering to the likelihood that his would always be a hard and sad life. (Psalm 88:15)

We know that this man, named Heman by the way, was a very wise man (I Chronicles 4:31)—among the wisest of the wise. Yet all of his wisdom, talent (he was also a singer-songwriter according to I Chronicles 15:19) and position in the king’s court didn’t prevent nor alleviate the pain that saturated his world. But Heman was wise enough not just to sit around and stew in his sad juices. Perhaps what made him so wise and talented was that he did something as therapeutic as anything else on earth to counteract his sadness: He wrote songs. He put his experiences and his emotions into words, and those words were set to music, and they were memorialized in the psalter of the human race, the book of Psalms. Maybe his pain never went away. We just don’t know, but I’m guessing—no, I’m sure—he felt a whole lot better knowing that others would be inspired and find strength for their own painful journey through his music.

So why don’t you give it a shot? You’ve got pain, too. You have your fair share of sorrow, and disappointment. Sometime you wrestle with the sobering sense that your sadness over a matter may just be your lot in life. Perhaps it never will go away—perish the thought—but that may be your reality. Go ahead and put your experience into words. Then turn your words into a tune. And if nothing else, sing your own song to the Lord.

You never know, someone may discover your sad song someday, and your lament may become famous. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Pain, if patiently endured, and sanctified to us, is a great purifier of our corrupted nature.”
—George Whitefield

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