The goodness of lament and the God who listens
(This post has been slightly edited since its first publication March 23, 2017.)
"How long, O LORD?" It's the cry of David in Psalm 13:1. It's the cry of other biblical writers as well. It's the cry of those who continue to await God's help or see the flourishing of the wicked, among other reasons.
Lament is not exalted as a virtue in a Christian culture that instead magnifies Your Best Life Now and so many other unbiblical, unhelpful emphases that mark the prosperity gospel and therapeutic faith of our day. Yet, it's a biblical, virtuous practice. It's a practice it would be helpful to adopt if we would follow the example of the people of God described in Scripture.
In our small church, we have people who can lament with good cause. The reasons are manifold: The lostness of loved ones. Physical affliction. The departure from biblical faith and/or morality of family or friends. Infertility. The suffering of family members. The burdens borne by a parent or child. The crimes against humanity we are all witnesses to.
Many of the psalms of the Bible are marked by lament. As such, they provide insight into why lament is good, says David Gundersen, lead pastor of BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston and formerly associate professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. In a blog post in September 2016, Gundersen wrote:
If the Psalms of Israel teach us anything, they teach us that we are sinful, that life is broken, that hardship abounds, and that the greater David who’s coming (through all his travail and tribulations) to establish his everlasting kingdom is still to come. On these grounds, and many others, they teach us that it’s good — not just OK — to lament. Because if we’re singing in the rain, the melody should often match the weather. In this way, the Psalms show us a powerful reversal of the way we typically think about lament. We often assume that lament implies doubt. But in truth, lament is actually an act of faith. The person to whom you complain is the person you trust. Sometimes we complain to people because we know they’ll listen. Sometimes we complain to people because we know they’ll care. And sometimes we complain to people because we know they can help. If all of this is true, then our conception of lament gets turned on its head, and we must boldly acknowledge a new reality: Psalmic complaint is a form of trust, because lamenting to God implies belief in his listening ear, his fatherly care, and his sovereign power.
May we lament with the knowledge we have a Father whom we can trust.