Faith in Lament
More than a third of the psalms are laments. There is an entire book of the Bible, Lamentations, where the author grieves about the suffering he is experiencing in and around him. What is lament, biblically speaking? I like the definition given in a book about this topic, where the author says, “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.”
Hurt and sorrow is a very real and foundational part of life. And when we try to brush it aside, or tell someone to just cheer up, get over it, just trust God, we are not actually dealing with suffering the way that God does. If God wanted us to just “get over it,” he wouldn’t have inspired so much of his Word to record the cries of the heart of a sufferer. Psalm 10 is one of these psalms of lament and a very painful one at that. We get a window into the author’s world, to see what he saw and felt, and what he then did in response.
One of the many benefits of psalms of lament, is that we learn how to walk through our suffering in faith. We go into and through the pain with the author and hopefully come out the other side with him in trust. And if we pay attention, really consider their words, we will be able to apply it to our own suffering as well. Not that we are given concrete answers, like “I suffer because xyz…” We are not after philosophical answers to the problem of evil. Instead we go deeper, and focus on the heart, ours and God’s.
The lament of Psalm 10 teaches us that:
When pain and suffering darken our hearts, we must cling to our faith in God as the only one who can bring us peace in our suffering.
This psalm walks through suffering in two stages. We start with the darkness of suffering; this is where lament comes from. Then we will see a change, where despite all of the reasons not to, the psalmist clings to faith in God in the midst of his suffering. It is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.
1. The Darkness of Suffering
Verse 1 sets the stage for this psalm of lament with these cries in the form of questions from the heart. This is a heart that is clouded over and darkened by suffering. We don’t know anything about the author; we are not told it is David, although that makes sense considering the surrounding Psalms are all attributed to him. And we can gather from the context that his suffering is due to wicked people bringing pain and agony on others through their oppression and sin. The psalmist is observing the world around him and it rips his heart apart. All he can see is evil people going from bad to worse, rebelling against God, injustice is rampant, and not only do these wicked people seem to have no consequences, they are prospering in all that they do.
This causes the psalmist to cry out to God from a place of deep darkness and pain, asking why God seems to be so far away. Why are you hiding yourself? Aren’t you paying attention? Are you going to do something? Do you see what is happening? Do you even care?
I mentioned in a past sermon how the fact that there isn’t always a clear context to the psalms can allow us to fill in our experiences and use them as our own words. And I would be willing to bet that most all of us can do that with this psalm. That the words of verse 1 are not so far removed from some of the cries of our hearts. The feeling of the darkness of suffering, the loss of the sense of the presence of God in the moment where we feel like we need him most, is a very real thing to many of us. I am sure that although we all try to come into church with our best foot forward, and put on smiles, some of us are in a cloud and fog because our hearts are filled with questions and chaos. Why are you hiding yourself God? Are you even listening? Do you even see what I am going through? Because everything I see screams to the contrary.
Maybe your pain and suffering is caused by the sins of others and your heart is filled with feelings of hurt and betrayal like the psalmist here. Or the darkness is from physical or mental illness, a prolonged suffering or an uncertain future and you are wondering why God would let this happen? Was he not paying attention? It could even be suffering caused by our own sin, where we feel trapped, overwhelmed by our lusts and stuck in habitual sin. We see the Bible telling us to live one way but we can’t get out of our own way. And even though we have been pleading with him, crying out to him for help, God doesn’t seem like he is around. Now we are left asking, “why?” This is the darkness of suffering. Like this psalm we can’t see anything good, we don’t see or feel God anywhere.
This is a very real and all too common part of our lives. That is why lament exists in the Bible, it is just reality. The Bible tells us of peace and hope, but many times it is far off. We are left in that in-between, looking at the promise of a distant hope and wondering why there is no relief now, in the present.
When we come to that place in our hearts, it is a make or break moment. We can go one of two ways when we are in the midst of that suffering. We can decide to stay in the darkness, to embrace it. We can call this the Simon and Garfunkel path, and say with them, “hello darkness my old friend.” The darkness and pain become our only friends and we wallow in our suffering. That is where we choose to believe that God isn’t going to help, or that he isn’t even there. We abandon our faith because we feel like it doesn’t help us or anyone else. The darkness and the chaos win.
This is a pretty popular route today, it even has a hip title, known as “deconstructing faith.” I believed God would help, he didn’t, there is still suffering in me or around me, I don’t see anything good coming from my faith, therefore, faith is out the window. There is just too much darkness. I don’t feel or perceive God working, so I am walking away.
That is one option. A very painful, sad and dark path. But there is a better way. Like the psalmist, we can see and feel the suffering very deeply, we don’t minimize it. But instead of embracing the darkness, we can biblically lament and go to God and cling to the truth in faith. What does that look like?
2. Clinging to the Truth in Faith
a. the truth
Suffering, pain, sin all lead to this darkness of the heart. Where our thoughts and emotions are in a fog, nothing makes sense anymore. When we are hurt, we usually see everything through the lens of our pain, everything turns dark. Reality gets distorted and our perception of the world, truth and God gets enveloped in darkness and chaos. We are not able to see things clearly and the truth gets lost. That is why we must run to God first and foremost.
And we see that in this psalm by the simple fact that the author is writing a prayer to God. He is bringing his hurts, his very real and deep pain to God. He is telling God his perception of the world. And it is dark, it is bleak, it is raw, painful, distorted and theologically incorrect in places.
But he is not running from God. He is not simply raving about how terrible everything is, stuck in the darkness. He is going to God and desperately trying to cling to him in faith and hope as the only one who can truly heal, care for and strengthen the sufferer. It isn’t pretty, these first 13 verses are the words of a chaotic, broken heart. But it is a heart that is holding onto God at all costs.
And as he does this, as he gives voice in prayer to all that he sees and feels, even though it is messy, God does a mighty work in his heart. We can see it happen, between verses 13 and 14, like the light bulb came on and the darkness was lifted.
God why are you hiding, why does the wicked prosper at all times, why are we suffering like this, don’t you care, don’t you see?
And then God lifts the veil and the truth comes flooding into his heart like a rush of cool water over a burning fire. God, you do see! The truth is that you are there, even if I can’t sense it, see it, feel it, you do take all suffering and pain and sin into your hands. You are the helper of the helpless. you are the king, you do hear, you do see, you will strengthen us, you will bring justice and someday there will be no more suffering and oppression and terror on the earth. That is what is true and that is the only place of help, rest and peace the psalmist can find.
And he reached this healing place through prayer. This is so important to see and let sink in. He did not turn away from God, letting his perception of the world or his emotions determine what he thinks is true. That is what we are all prone to do so quickly. In our hurt and pain we let what we feel speak into our minds and hearts and distort what is true. That is stopping at step one in biblical lament, that is letting the darkness win. Instead we need to continue on in the process of lament, and like the psalmist, let God speak the truth into our hearts.
And that happens through communing with God, giving voice to our pain to God. Like what we read here, the writer clung to God in faith and said here is what I see, here is what I feel. Yet through that he continued to abide with God through prayer even in the midst of his great darkness and as a result the cloud was lifted. He could see the truth that God is there and God does see.
And I would add to this, we who are reading this psalm some 3,000 years later, have the completed Scriptures, the Word of God, that also helps us to know God and the truth about him and his plans. Through prayer and the reading of the Word of God, he speaks into our hearts and lifts the fog of darkness in our suffering. But again, that won’t happen if we run away from him. If we choose our perception of the world over his. If we decide to deconstruct our faith, we will only be walking into the suffering more and away from the one who is truly able to hear, see, care and help.
And notice, too, this important fact. Nothing about the situation for the psalmist has changed, right? The psalm doesn’t say, and God swooped in and saved the day and all the suffering stopped for me and I feel better. No, he is still suffering! He is still hurting. The hope he clings to is still in the future! But he is at rest because he knows the truth. His heart is grieving but also has hope. He is suffering but he knows that God is there, he is not far off, he is not hiding. He will bring his justice, he will prevail, he is King forever and ever and in that we find hope, rest and healing even if it doesn’t fit our timetable.
But maybe you are thinking, “That is not good enough! Why does God allow the suffering to continue? Why doesn’t he stop it?” And the answer is, we don’t know. We aren’t told. But that is what faith is, isn’t it? That we cling to and believe what we are told by God is the truth: that he is the King, the good King, who will heal all brokenness and right every wrong, and help the helpless in his perfect timing. In the time that he chooses, not ours. We hope in him, wait for him and continue to bring our hurts to him so that he can strengthen and help us in our darkness. We wrestle with and rest in that truth in faith. Sometimes there will be more wrestling than resting, but we do what we must to cling to the truth.
b. the Truth
But we also hold onto another Truth, Truth with a capital T. Jesus Christ said that he is the Truth, meaning he brings the truth about God to us. He reveals the Father to those who come to him. He opens the heart of God to his children. And what we find in him, is a God that is never far off, one who never hides his face in our suffering and anguish. It may feel like we are all alone, but the Bible tells us that Jesus suffered, was mistreated, betrayed, maligned, oppressed, tempted, was physically abused, he went through all forms of suffering and grief because of his great love for us.
Our God loves us so much that he willingly endured the most egregious mistreatment and pain so that he could relate to us intimately. The book of Hebrews talks about this and says that because Jesus suffered like us, he sympathizes with us in our suffering. That word sounds funny, sympathize. Like a little pat on the shoulder, “there, there.” But that is not what Jesus is like towards us in our hurts, that is not what is being conveyed. As one author put it, this word means that, “In our pain, Jesus is pained; in our suffering, he feels the suffering as his own even though it isn’t…His is a love that cannot be held back when he sees his people in pain.”
His heart cannot be held back from us in our suffering. He never hides his face from us. He is never far off. He does see, he does hear. And not only does he see and hear us, he feels what we are feeling. He says, “I have been there, I too have lamented, I cried out “why” to the Father. And I did so to give you life, peace, hope and rest in me.”
In writing about lament, the author Nancy Duff, writes that “…Jesus Christ, speaks the psalms of lament alongside us, and…proclaims hope, when there can-at least for the time being-be no hope in us.”
Jesus suffered, died and rose again so that we would know hope, even when there can be no hope in us. Even when all seems lost. Even when all we cling to is a far-off hope. He wants us to know him, to cling to him and believe that we will never have to walk through the darkness of suffering alone. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be hurt; he doesn’t promise to take us out of the suffering. Someday that will come but it’s not right now. No, right now, we will suffer and cry out, we will lament, but we can know that we are not alone. The darkness and the broken world we perceive is not all there is. God is there and he is working and he is good.
We lament and we can cling to our faith in the Truth, capital T, the one who laments alongside of us and gives us help, hope, strength and peace even in the midst of pain and hurt because he is right there beside us more closely and personally than we can even know. And we cling to our faith in the truth that someday he will ultimately remove and destroy all sin, all brokenness, all suffering, all lamenting, and we who have held onto him by faith will be joyfully forever with him.