In Ask the Counselor, I noted that we should reflect on our past. In Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, I described the first part of reflection: candor—being honest with ourselves. Now we’ll look at a second aspect of reflection: lament—being honest with God. I develop this material further in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses. Here’s an excerpt from chapter three: “A Lament for Your Loss Mourn.”
Biblical Lament: Telling God the Truth
Numerically, there are more Psalms of complaint and lament than Psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Lament is vulnerable frankness about life to God in which I express my pain and confusion over how a good God allows evil and suffering.
Lament is a faith-based act of persistent trust. Lament is one of the many moods of faith. Psalm 91’s exuberant trust is one faith mood while Psalm 88’s dark despair is another faith mood. A mood of faith trusts God enough to bring everything about us to Him. In lamewnt we hide nothing from God because we trust His good heart and because we know He knows our hearts.
My Personal Lament Journey
In the weeks and months after my 22nd birthday, I engaged in passionate lament. What made my struggle with my father’s death even more difficult was my lack of assurance that my father was a believer. I had witnessed to him, prayed for him, and he even began attending church with me. Yet even on his deathbed, he made no verbal commitment of faith in Christ.
So I shared with God. I told God, “What’s the use? Why did I pray, witness, and share? Why should I ever pray again? Why should I ever try again, trust again?”
I shared my confusion and my doubt with God. “Why does everyone else’s parent accept Christ in a glorious deathbed conversion? Why can’t I have assurance of my Dad’s presence with You?”
Were my expressions of lament biblical? Can lament be biblically supported? Does God truly prize lament?
Biblical Lament Samplers: With Christ in the School of Suffering
According to Psalm 62:8, if we truly trust God, then we’ll share everything with God. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
The biblical genre of lament expresses frankness about the reality of life that seems inconsistent with the character of God. Lament is an act of truth-telling faith, not unfaith. Lament is a rehearsal of the bad allowed by the Good.
When we lament, we live in the real world honestly, refusing to ignore what is occurring. Lament is our expression of our radical trust in God’s reliability in the midst of real life.
Psalm 73 is a prime example of Lament. Asaph begins, “Surely God is good to Israel” (73:1). He then continues with a litany of apparent evidence to the contrary, such as the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the godly (73:2-15). When he tries to make sense of all this, it’s oppressive to him (73:16). He then verbalizes to God the fact that his heart is grieved and his spirit embittered (73:21).
His lament, his complaint, drew him nearer to God. It did not push him away from God. “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand” (73:23). He concludes, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.” (73:28).
It was Asaph’s intense relationship with God that enlightened him to the goodness of God even during the badness of life. “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. . . . As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O LORD, you will despise them as a fantasy” (73:17, 20). Spiritual friendship with God results in 20/20 spiritual vision from God.
Asaph illustrates that in lament we come to God with a sense of abandonment and confusion (Isaiah 49:14; Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20). We then exercise a courageous, yet humble cross-examination. Not a cross-examination of God, but a cross-examination and a refuting of earth-bound reality with spiritual reality.
That’s exactly what occurs in Jeremiah 20:7; Lamentations 5:20; and Psalm 88:18. In all three passages, it appears by reason alone that life is bad and so is God. Yet in each passage, God responds positively to a believer’s rehearsal of life’s inconsistencies.
In Job 3, and much of Job for that matter, Job forcefully and even violently expresses his lament.
What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning? Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life.
In Job 42:7-8, God honors Job’s lament saying that Job spoke right of life and right of God. God prizes lament and rejects all deceiving denial and simplistic closure, preferring candid complexity.
To deny or diminish suffering is to refuse arrogantly to be humbled. It is to reject dependence upon God. Moses chastises God’s people in Deuteronomy 8:1-10 for forgetting their past suffering. God wants us to make use of our suffering, to remember our suffering, to admit our need for Him in our suffering, and to rehearse our suffering (external and internal) before Him.
On the Road to Hope
Will we be disappointed with God or disappointed without God? We can either lament with and to God, or we can complain without and about God.
If facing suffering is wrestling face-to-face with God, then complaint is our decision to grapple with God about life hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye. Will you?
Join the Conversation
How would you compare your response to your suffering to Job’s? Jeremiah’s? Jacob’s? David’s? Paul’s? Jesus in the Garden?