Imagine this: You’re with your friends from church in a small group setting. You’re sitting around the table, coffee in hand, maybe you’re sharing prayer requests: Doug needs a new job, Aunt Louise has cancer. Then the guy across from you starts to pray, starts to weep. And as he weeps, he sputters out this prayer:
“God, God, save me! I’m in over my head! I’m hoarse from calling for help, bleary-eyed from searching the sky for God. I’ve got more enemies than hairs on my head; sneaks and liars are out to knife me in the back. God, you know every sin I’ve committed; my life’s a wide-open book before you. Don’t let those who look to you in hope be discouraged by what happens to me, dear Lord! Because of you I look like an idiot, I walk around ashamed to show my face!”
This is uncomfortable. Weird. You steal a side-long glance at your spouse. You’re ready to get out of this situation. How are you supposed to respond to such an emotional, sad, and angry prayer?
Believe it or not, this is actually a paraphrase from part of Psalm 69 in The Message. It’s also an example of something that is very common in scripture and that God is very comfortable with hearing. It’s called a lament.
As American Christians we are often unaccustomed to suffering. We try to avoid it at all costs and feel like we don’t deserve it. When we find ourselves suffering, we are surprised it should “happen to us.” There must be a solution of some sort that medicine, money, or therapy can provide. We are embarrassed by any sign of struggle, weakness, or tears, and instead hide our trials under feeble smiles at church. We think somehow that it is more spiritual to succumb to, what Paul Tripp describes as, “some creepy form of Christian stoicism.” Instead of bearing each other’s burdens, we so often pat each other on the back and mumble “I’ll pray for you” and then walk away and forget.
However, we should not find suffering an embarrassment. We have the example of those who’ve suffered before us: Job, David, Jeremiah, and Christ, the ultimate “Man of Sorrows.” We also have the ancient language of biblical lament to shape our response to suffering and pour out our struggle to God. In Michael Card’s book, A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, Card examines how lamenting our pain, questions, and sorrow to God can move us to praise and worship.
Card reminds us that we can easily be deceived into believing that God’s gifts are all that He is. If we equate God’s good gifts for God’s love, then when suffering comes our way we view God’s love for us as not being real, and we grow bitter towards God. But God’s loving-kindness (or hesed in Hebrew) is ever-present. So often, though, when we don’t see or feel God’s loving-kindness, we think it’s not there, and we wonder with David, “Where are You, O Lord?”
But through the process of lamentation we have an opportunity to grow closer to God by fellowshipping with Him through our sufferings. Card makes an interesting observation: “With the exception of one psalm (88), each lament turns eventually to praise, revealing an important truth that has been lost; lament is one of the most direct paths to the true praise we have lost. In fact, lament is not a path to worship, but the path of worship…” So it is through lamenting that we humbly confess our need for God and give Him our suffering as a form of worship.
A Sacred Sorrow explores lament in the lives of Job, David, and Jeremiah, and how their lamentation turned them to worship. The book also deals with complex scriptural issues, making them easier to understand. Card discusses Job in a way that made me grasp the book in a fresh and clear way, and examines David’s “imprecatory” psalms where he literally calls down curses of death and destruction on his enemies. But all of these lamenters point to the greatest lamenter of all, Christ himself. So often we think we need answers to our pain and sorrow, but if we do, we are missing our greatest need. Like the Israelites, we don’t understand that “Jesus had not come to simply give them the answer they thought they needed, but to give them the one and only thing they truly did need, Himself.”
Christ was the ultimate bearer of all our laments. When He cried, “Why have You forsaken me?” he experienced what we, as Christians, will never have to experience — being truly forsaken by God. Because of our sin, God the Father and Christ the Son’s perfect unity was broken. As Card so beautifully sums up, “At the precise point when Jesus was most forsaken by God, He was being used the most by God. When He was lamenting God’s perceived absence, something was being accomplished through His life that would save the world…. Jesus lamented for us all. Jesus still intercedes for us all. The best news of the Gospel is that because of Jesus, none of us will ever again, could ever again, be forsaken by God.” Because of that act, we have hope. So bring your laments to God and leave them at His feet. He is strong enough to bear them. In fact, he already has.