In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”. There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions. It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.
Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to the argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament. The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments. Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions. It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation. However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.
Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm. In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God? In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation. Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.
Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way. Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin. It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly. If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.
The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance. Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.
In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer. Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus. He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel. He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath. And He lamented with outpouring cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many. Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.
When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.