It is rightly said that God wants an honest, authentic, sincere relationship with us.
Paul goes so far as to say that this is one of the major, if not the major, goals of his discipleship ministry and teaching:
The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a goodconscience and a sincere faith. — 1 Timothy 1:5, emphasis mine
And the author of Hebrews reminds us that when we approach God,
let us draw near to God with a sincere heart. — Hebrews 10:22
This only makes sense because we can’t fake God out. After all,
the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. — 1 Chronicles 28:9
This means that if we are angry or disappointed with God, we should tell Him. Such prayers from the Old Testament have come to be called “laments,” which are passionate expressions of grief, sorrow, regret, or disappointment.
To lament is to wail, moan, cry, or sob; to offer a complaint (a statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable, often expressed in anger or confusion).
Here is an example of a lament from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk:
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to You, “Violence!” but You do not save. Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. — Habakkuk 1:2-4 (cf. Lamentations 3:1-18)
Out of 150 psalms, 48 are individual laments, and 16 are corporate laments (for a total of 64). There are 15 psalms of trust, 20 of praise, and 13 of wisdom. Remember, the book of Psalms was the hymnbook for ancient Israel, and 43 percent of their congregational singing proved to be complaints and expressions of sadness and disappointment with God!1
Why is this true? The Jewish worshipers wanted to approach God with sincere hearts, and they experienced a fundamental problem: God does not seem to keep His covenant (Psalm 44:17-26; cf. 89:34) or His promises (Psalm 9:9-10: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You”; see also Psalm 89).
God saved in the past but seems not to in the present, so perhaps He is arbitrary, fickle, and unfair (see Psalm 44), or maybe He is absent, indifferent, aloof, and far away (see Psalm 10:1; Psalm 77:7-9). He does not always answer when we call out to Him (see Psalm 22:3-6; Psalm 39:12; note that Psalms 39 and Psalm 88 are two of the saddest psalms in the Psalter because they end with no response from God, no hope, no resolution).
Many times God does not say how long the psalmist’s suffering will last (see Psalm 13:1-4; Psalm 35:17). Sometimes the psalmist claims that God has become an enemy (see Psalm 88:8-9; cf. Lamentations 3:1-18, esp. Lamentations 3:10: “like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding”). These apparent features of God often become more of a struggle than our original source of pain. If we can’t go to God and get help, we are in far deeper trouble than from our original suffering. Our problems raise crucial life-and-death questions:
Why should I trust God in the first place, and if I do, what does it actually mean to trust God? What can I expect from Him? How can I claim His explicit promises that He Himself seems to contradict and on which He has reneged?
To get a feel for the various kinds of issues that provoked God’s children to cry out to (or against!) Him in lament, I urge you to take your time and read carefully the different psalms below. You may want to mark the ones that especially touch you, and if relevant, use them as beginning points for your own times of expressing lament to God.
Types of Lament Prayers
A cry of pain (Psalm 80:4-7)
A cry of complaint (Psalm 6 and Psalm 13)
A cry of argument — sometimes with and sometimes against God (Psalm 22; Psalm 35; Psalm 39; Psalm 42; Psalm 43; Psalm 74; Psalm 88; Psalm 90; Psalm 102)
Look at the mocking tone of Psalm 74:11:
Why do You [Lord] hold back Your hand, Your right hand? Take it from the folds of Your garment and destroy [our enemy].
Psalm 90:13 (NASB) even enjoins God to repent:
Do return, O Lord; how long will it be? And be sorry for [the NASB footnote reads, “Or repent in regard to] Your servants.
These psalms present what Old Testament scholars call a “rîb-pattern” — a legal-type brief consisting of a carefully thought-out, reasoned case against God.
This sort of prayer finds precedent in various places in the Old Testament. For example, before Jeremiah offers a reasoned argument in prayer to persuade God to act on his behalf, he begins,
You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case [rîb] before you. — Jeremiah 12:1
Elsewhere, Jeremiah does the same thing:
To you I have committed my cause [rîb]. — Jeremiah 20:12
Indeed, God actually invited his people to do this:
‘Present your case [rîb],’ says the Lord says. ‘Set forth your arguments’. — Isaiah 41:21
Terms related to rîb are mishpat (“I would state my case [mishpat] before Him and fill my mouth with arguments” [Job 23:4]) and yakakh (“‘Come now, and let us reason (yakakh — reason, argue, adjudicate) together,’ says the Lord” [Isaiah 1:18 NASB]).
Lament’s Theological Convictions
We can feel the raw emotions dripping off each of these passages of lament. Now, obviously, when we are angry at God and express disappointment to Him for appearing to fail us in one way or another, the hope is that a time will come when we realize that God is not the fickle culprit we thought He was. But the best way to get to that point is to be honest and start with where we really are, even if it’s the place expressed in these psalms.
Expressing to God our honest feelings and beliefs is a good way to get things off our chest, stop stuffing our feelings, release anxiety, and begin a path toward a more intimate relationship with God.
Clearly, the fact that God’s people felt the freedom to express things to God like the ones we’ve just examined is based on foundational theological convictions. Here are some of them:
- At the end of the day, God is indeed faithful, trustworthy, and caring, and He is a God who honors His promises (see Psalm 9:9-10).
- God wants us to speak honestly with Him and not pretend we’re at a place that He knows we’re really not at (see Jeremiah 12:1; Jeremiah 20:12).
- God listens to and responds to reasonable points we make. He can be reasoned with (see Genesis 18:20–33; Isaiah 1:18).
- God can and sometimes is willing to change (see Psalm 6:4-5; Psalm 80:14; Psalm 90:13; cf. Genesis 6:6; Jeremiah 18:7-10).
- I’d add a few New Testament considerations: (1) Our question is Peter’s question:
Lord, to whom shall we go? — John 6:68
(2) God will not allow us to suffer more or longer than we can bear, so when we ask God “How much longer?” we are on solid ground.
(3) God sees and has a bigger purpose than we do (see Acts 4:23-30).
- Laments are the shadow side of faith. It is precisely because we take God seriously and desire to grow in faith and in our relationship with him that we engage in honest lament.
If we were indifferent to God, we wouldn’t waste our time with lament.
All these convictions raise some final questions:
How can we deal with disappointment with God?
If we seek to retain high faith expectations regarding God, won’t that just make us vulnerable to further disappointment and disillusionment?
If we lower our faith expectations, doesn’t something die inside us?
And is there a difference between hope and expectation?
If so, what is that difference, and is it desirable to concentrate on retaining one and letting the other go when faced with disappointment with God?
Maintaining a biblically based worldview, a larger perspective on life as to its meaning and purpose, can place our struggle with anxiety or depression in a larger, hopeful perspective. And while God doesn’t want us to be mentally ill, He often does not answer our prayers for relief and healing in the way we desire. Thus, it is important to learn how to express honestly and authentically our feelings and attitudes toward God in these times. There is biblical precedent for this, so we can go ahead and be honest.
1.For helpful resources on lament prayers in the Bible, see Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III, The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994); Bernhard W. Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today (New York: United Methodist Church, 1970); Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1984); Walter Bruggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002); Ingvar Fløysvik, When God Becomes My Enemy: The Theology of the Complaint Psalms (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1997); Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988).
Excerpted with permission from Finding Quiet by J. P. Moreland, copyright J. P. Moreland.
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Are you disappointed with God? Do you feel as if He has turned His back on you? The Father wants you to bring it to Him, tell Him, lament to Him, and be comforted. Be honest. He can handle it! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily
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