Darkness and despair do not have the last word. God speaks, and we have Scripture as a testimony of His speaking. God provides for and liberates people. He comes to us in the flesh, in Jesus Christ; and he comes to us in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells with our spirit… God is a person, not a force… and He is personal. But this is part of the problem: if God reveals Himself as personal, why does He not appear personal to me? This tension is what leads to the biblical response of lament.
Lament in Scripture
A lament is when we cry out because life is not what it is supposed to be, inside ourselves or in the world around us. Something is terribly wrong! Lament is part of what it means to have faith biblically; it is not the absence of faith. Lament makes up a third of the psalms and shapes much of the life of worship for Israel. Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem and he weeps over it. All throughout His trial and crucifixion, Jesus quotes several psalms of lament! God is directly, personally acquainted with our sorrow.
Laments have a predictable pattern in Scripture: 1)
- Disorientation (crisis)
- Turning toward God
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me (Psalm 13:1-2)?
We often ask if God is distant (or even hiding from us) when we are hurting. Am I forgotten, overlooked, not worthy of God’s time? This is how Psalm 13 begins, with four cries of “How long?” David has been wrestling, waiting, languishing for a long time and he feels alone and isolated. He feels Yahweh has abandoned him, and he has no friends to counsel him.1Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., Whitehead, M. M., Grigoni, M. R., & Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 13:3). Lexham Press.
Verse 2 in the NLT says “How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul… How long will my enemy have the upper hand?” David laments that he spends every day in this distress. And while feeling forsaken by God, his enemies triumph over him.2Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 801). Victor Books.
Who is this enemy in verse 2? We’re not sure exactly who David considers his enemies here. It could be the Philistines, Moabites, or Ammonites… or people within Israel who want to see him fail (every leader has haters). These are not our enemies when we echo David’s lament in our generation, though. No, our enemies are the powers of darkness, sin, and death! They are not natural. They were not in the first creation, and they won’t be in the New Creation. Death is an intruder.
Turning Towards God
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken (Psalm 13:3–4).
God can be trusted in the midst of our pain and suffering and silence. Lament is at the heart of our faith because lament is not simply crying out in despair, it’s bringing your despair and your doubts to our God. As Christians, we turn toward God in relationship to ask why God doesn’t seem to be providing when He promised He would, why he doesn’t appear to be active toward us when He promises to be near to the brokenhearted, to dwell with the contrite and the lowly. This is verse 3: “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!” “Give light to my eyes” refers to the restoring of strength or health (1 Sam 14:27). David felt that death was imminent if Yahweh did not act. And if Yahweh did not act, his enemies would be able to rejoice and boast in their apparent victory over David and, therefore, over David’s God, the God of Israel.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me (Psalm 13:5-6)
We turn to God, and ask him to consider us, because we know who our God is, what he has done, and what he has promised to do. This is what David does in verses 5 and 6. In the midst of his despair he can rejoice in his salvation. In the midst of his sorrow he can sing to the Lord for the goodness he has received from his hand.
When we turn toward God in faith as we offer up our lament, we seek to be reoriented to the reality of redemption in and through Christ Jesus. We are reminded that our risen Lord is making all things new, and one day, all sorrow, suffering, and sin will be no more when our king returns. As we come to our God with all of our cares, and make our requests known to him, we have the blessed assurance that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Joel serves as a pastor at Emmanuel Community Church, overseeing family ministries. He has degrees in Child Development (Mental Health) and Counseling Psychology and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Joel works part-time at the church and part-time as an addictions counselor and Family Care Coordinator at Bradford Recovery Center (a residential drug and alcohol treatment center). Joel and Gina have been married 11 years and they have five children: Ava (10), Jude (8), Josiah (6), Malachi (5), and Kira (2). He loves being outdoors, playing volleyball and soccer, learning about philosophy and theology, and is a shameless chocoholic.
- 1Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., Whitehead, M. M., Grigoni, M. R., & Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 13:3). Lexham Press.
- 2Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 801). Victor Books.