For a kaleidoscope of reasons, we often assume that lament implies doubt. We assume that crying out to God in our pain is somehow an inherent indictment against his character and our faith. We’re fearful or ashamed of expressing our frustrations, our complaints, and our sorrows to him — for a tapestry of reasons that only the divine heart-knower himself could know.
So instead of verbalizing our deepest and darkest and most jagged things to God, we stuff them deep down, or we complain to other people, or we drown them out through pleasures and comforts and careers and accomplishments and exercise and addictions. We glance at, but never gaze into, our sins and our sufferings, because we fear that if they’re as bad as we fear, we’ll be left without strength and hope. So we find another pseudo-refuge from the storm, or we close our eyes and cover our ears and pretend like the storm’s not as dark or as loud as it looks and sounds. The hurricane is just a rushing wind. The tornado is just a 10-foot dust-devil. The tsunami is just a strong current.
But our hearts are, all the while, telling us differently. They’re telling us it’s really bad out here, and the dangers are real, and the sorrows are deep, and the burdens are heavy, and the hardships are hard, and the sins are destructive.
In these moments (or seasons) of confusion and conviction and heartache, God doesn’t want us to minimize our pain but verbalize it. He wants us to cry out to him like an injured child instinctively cries out to his parents. God doesn’t want that crying out to be mainly self-directed as we inject the poison of self-pitying introspection into our own psyches, and he also doesn’t want it to be primarily others-directed as we grumble and gossip about people or lash out in an effort to punish or control.
God wants us to cry out first and foremost to him. He wants us to complain to him. He wants us to lament to him.
Think about the Psalms for a moment, but don’t think about what the psalmists are saying. Think about what the psalmists are doing. Regardless of what they’re saying, one thing is true across the 150-psalm Psalter: the sinful and suffering saints are venting their hearts to God.
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.