Hans-Joachim Kraus denominates Psalm 88 ‘The darkest of all OT Psalms’, and few would disagree. Equally important is the fact that, in spite of its gloomy content, this is a prayer addressed to God. It is marked out as a prayer by the first two verses:
O LORD, God of my salvation,
When, at night, I cry out in your presence,
Let my prayer come before you;
Incline your ear to my cry.
We are often told that ‘all human experience’ is reflected in the Book of Psalms. This claim would be proved false if bitter experiences and darker emotions were excluded.
Some have suggested that these words arose from a situation of mortal illness. That is certainly one way to read them. But the psalm can ring true to any experience of ultimate threat or affliction.
The psalmist’s experience is described in verses 3-10. He feels close to Sheol, the world of the dead, where people are shadows of their former selves and live an attenuated existence. Sheol is also called ‘The Pit’ (verses 4, 6) and Abaddon, the place of destruction (verse 11). The inhabitants of Sheol are cut off from God; God remembers them no more (verse 5). Such a picture of the future life was current in the ancient world, before Christ came and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). The shadow of Sheol can fall on the living, bringing an intimation of death.
The psalmist feels that he is under God’s wrath (verse 7). Elsewhere in the book of Psalms God is present even in Sheol (see Psalm 139:8), but apparently not here. A negative answer is clearly expected to the rhetorical questions of verses 11 and 12:
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
Or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
Or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
The psalmist not only feels forsaken by God; support from other people is apparently completely lacking.
You have caused my companions to shun me;
You have made me a thing of horror to them...
You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
My companions are in darkness (verses 8, 18).
The prayer ends on a note of relentless terror and desolation. The psalmist feels deserted by God and humans alike. Such feelings can be experienced by anybody. This psalm shows us how to bring them to God when we ‘cry out’ to him. Even in his darkness, the psalmist addresses the LORD as ‘God of my salvation’. The Christian claim is that Jesus Christ himself mysteriously plumbed the depths of human and divine abandonment (Mark 14:50; 15:34), and is now the light of the world (John 8:12).
 Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-160. Tr Hilton C. Oswald. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Page 193.
 Bible references are from the New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Version)).
 Compare Kraus, page 195.