Learning to Lament Part 3
Being Realistic (Truth and Honesty)
The ceaseless passage of time that makes up our lives, is often likened to water flowing under a bridge. “Lots of water has passed under the bridge since … ”. Sometimes they are peaceful, “when peace like a river attendeth my way”. Sometimes they are joyful, like a bubbling brook. Sometimes tumultuous, “when sorrows like sea billows roll”, “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your billows have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7). That’s lament!
Realistically, all our lives comprise those moments, irrespective of how “good” or “bad” we have been. We all face times of joy and seasons of sorrow. When those times of sorrow come, we need to know how to lament, and we need to know how to do so realistically.
Psalms 42 & 43 provide some useful illustrative material for being realistic in lament.
Originally one Psalm, it was divided into two, probably for some forgotten liturgical purpose. Considered as one Psalm, it is made up of three stanzas – (42:1-4), (42:6-10), and (43:1-4). Each stanza followed by the common refrain “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (and my God)” (42:5, 42:11, and 43:5). The stanzas are symmetrical. The first and third both have 4 verses, while the second, i.e., the middle stanza, has 5 verses. That makes 42:8 the pivot point. We will seethe significance of that shortly.
The popular song based on verse 1 is sung as a devotional love song to the Lord – usually in times of blessings and joy, “you alone are the real joy giver and the apple of my eye.” But it’s actually a lament. The psalmist is in tears (42:3), he feels cut off from the Lord and His people (42:3b & 4, & 9), he is depressed (42:6), and oppressed (42:9). He was dislocated from Jerusalem, the Temple (43:6), and consequently, the Lord. This is a desperate man weeping bitterly. His adversaries taunt him to doubt the Lord (42:3) and he is nearly succumbing (42:9). In lament he TURNS to the Lord, he COMPLAINS to the Lord, He ASKS of the Lord, and he TRUSTS the Lord.
With that context, structure, and framework in mind, consider these 4 facts about lament.
- Lament is Reasonable.
There is a reason. It’s the result or effect of a cause or causes. You fee the way you do FOR A REASON. Be realistic and face those reason/s. In this case the psalmist was suffering under some captivity or diaspora. Whatever the various reasons of our individual struggles, they all share 4 commonalities:
- They are seasons.
They come and they go. They are not all that ever happens in your life. They are interspersed with seasons of blessing and joy. Job says his wife is speaking as a “foolish woman” if she expects and accepts only good from the Lord and not adversity as well (Job 2:10).
- They are variable.
They vary in degree of intensity. They aren’t always crushing blows and momentous events. Sometimes the “thorns and thistles” (Gen 3:18) of life can cause you to cry out “how long Oh Lord …”. We need to be truthful and honest. You cannot and need not hide your feelings from the Lord.
- They are value related.
J.I. Packer said, “grief is the inward desolation that follows the losing of something or someone we loved”. We love because the object is valuable to us. This is related to the varying degree of intensity. The more you value the object the more you love it. The more you love the object, the more you will grieve it’s loss.
- They are Temporal.
They are time bound, not eternal. We lament the loss of something we had in the past, have lost, and do not have now (Psalm 42:4). We also long for things we hope to have in the future, but do not have now (Psalm 42:1&2). The eternal God of Eternity has put eternity into our hearts (Eccl 3:11), and so in a sense we are in a foreign environment until we are present with the Lord in eternity and have everything we need in “the eternal now” (2Corinthians 4:16-18 and 1John 2:17).
- Lament is Talking.
It is talking to God. This is what distinguishes it from crying. In lament we talk to God, we cry out to him. We don’t give him the “silent treatment”. It’s prayer. Psalm 42&43 is prayer. It’s a turning to God not away from him, it’s a running to him, not away. Prayer demands both truth and honesty.
It is talking to oneself. In Psalm 42:1,6,7,9, 43:1-4 the psalmist addresses God directly in the third person “you”. In the rest of the psalm, he refers to God in the third person “put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my saviour and my God” as he addresses himself, “why, my soul, are you dejected …”. He addresses himself in the presence of God, with God as his witness, which also demands truth and honesty.
It is talking to Others (to one another). I will deal with this subject more fully in a later blog as we look at the book of Lamentations. For now, simply notice that there were conversations going on (42:3,10; 43:1). We live our lives in communities, families, churches, societies, workplaces etc. In all personal interaction there is the risk of conflict and hostility which can be a cause for lament. The scriptures are clear that “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18), which is why we have such passages as Matthew 5:21-24 and 18:15ff. Again, in these situations, we as Christians are to be truthful and honest. We represent the one who is “The Truth”.
All of this talking also implies therefore that in the third place:
- Lament is Listening.
Using the order above, lament is listening:
Listening to God – with an open Bible, the word of God, the truth (Psalm 43:3). It is this truth that will convince you that “The Lord will send his faithful love by day; his song in the night” (42:8, the pivotal verse).
Listening to yourself – with an open heart. Your will speaks to and counsels your emotions with the truth of God, to “put your hope in God, praise him, he is your saviour and your God”, that he will send his faithful love by day; his song in the night” (42:5,8,11; 43:5). Listen to yourself with an open heart. As you speak truth and honesty to yourself.
Listening to others – with an open mind. In the same way that David listened to Nathan. When we are at enmity with others we need to listen to their side of the story. When we are in trouble, there is wisdom in godly counsellors.
- Lament is Truth and Honesty
Truth and honesty with God, and before God.
Truth and honesty with oneself before God
Truth and honesty with others before God.
In this instance truth and honesty aren’t synonyms. In lament they are opposite poles, which must be held in tension.
Truth – is the objective doctrinal, theological, biblical facts of who God is, what he is like, his attributes etc. He is the “living God” (42:2), the faithful God (42:8), the vindicating God (43:1), the guiding God (43:3). He exists, He is sovereign, omnipotent and omnipresent. He controls all things, at all times, everywhere. God is good. That is truth.
Honesty – is facing the reality of your broken situation as described in 42:1-4. Verse 5a is honesty, verse 6 is honesty, v10 is honesty.
Yes, God exists and is sovereign and good, but …. My life is a mess, I am living in a scrambled egg.
How do we reconcile those opposite poles? Through lament. Through honestly rehearsing the brokenness of your situation, and the truth of God’s self-revelation, until you can get to the pivot point (42:8), the point of worship and trust. That point is contained in all the laments. There is always a “Yet” point. Thogh he slay me, YET shall I praise him. We need to find it in our own narrative.
Remember the four aspects of lament as defined by Mark Vroegop: Turning to God. Complaining to God. Asking God. Trusting God.