- Two people come to church. One comes in, bubbly, excited, enthusiastic, which is merely masking a struggle at home. The other comes in with melancholy, a little down, struggling with issues. The first person, the happy one, is the one who is warmed up to. The second person, and maybe this is you, feels unwelcome and perhaps even unwanted. You don't know how to fit in. Both are struggling; one masks it; the other expresses it...to no avail.
- Someone admits that they have doubts about God, the Bible, and faith. The solution is to ignore them...or else seek to correct them. We don't like this tension. And many believe that real Christians will not experience these emotions. But to not accept where someone is on their journey is to set them aside as less important.
- But we see people who have been told outright that they ought not struggle with depression, melancholy, or whatever. People have been shunned because of their supposedly un-Christian depression, mental illness, and problems that didn't fit the normal experience of the "comfortable" Christians. Consequently, people did not know how to relate to them.
- We proceed under the idea that Christians should be happy all the time...that to feel otherwise is somehow to sin. While people don't usually express this directly, it is implied by our actions and statements.
- How many of us have witnessed this? How many have seen someone ignored or marginalized because their experience of despair, disillusionment, depression, or doubt did not match up with the exuberance and excitement expected of Christians?
- How many of you have felt such marginalization?
The good news is that the Bible is aware of these emotions. And the Bible neither suppresses them nor seeks to hide them. In fact, we see these emotions, these struggles, these words, emerge out of the life of some of the biblical heroes:
- Job, as he raised his complaint that he was innocent
- Jeremiah and the prophets (esp Lamentations)
- even Jesus, as he lamented the fate of Israel and the city of Jerusalem
Religious use of these psalms of complaint has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that acknowledgment of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith, a lack of trust in God. But these are acts of bold trust because one dares to speak of these things before God, knowing that God hears and can answer, yea, will answer.
There are a number of these lament psalms in scripture. They are spoken both individually and communally. And they speak the truth. These are the songs of the oppressed. These are the prayers of the powerless. These are the cries of the broken.
The point of lament is to bring out your true feelings, emotions, hurts--within a deep relationship of trust with God. It is this deep trust that enables us to lament.
Yet, some are not able to voice this lament. Some are not able to look into their own spiritual condition and speak the truths of disappointment, distrust, and dis-ease that they find within. If you are not able to lament, it may be because someone has told you are that you are not able to do so, that "real" Christians do not feel what you feel, or that you not have strong enough faith. Let me be clear: these are lies that demonstrate the worst reason of all not to lament: you do not have enough trust in God to release who you really are to God. There is a fear of rejection and shame rather than an opening to grace.
But for those who struggle with faith, who face disappointment, who have challenges, these psalms are for you.
In this context, let us look at Psalm 13.
- It begins with a complaint (1-2): How long? This complaint represents a period of time for the psalmist. He did not wake this morning and decide to cry out to God; he has been struggling for some time--with enemies, with thoughts of defeat. In these, he feels abandonment. He feels the absence of God.
- He makes a request for help (3-4). He asks the Lord to intervene. He does not merely ask for "strength" or for the "Lord's will" to be done, but he appeals to God for vindication against his enemies and for deliverance. He acknowledges that without God's help he has no chance to prevail.
- He acts in trust (5-6). This is the key. It is important to note that he does not complain out of disrespect or dishonesty. His complaint emerges out of trust in God. There is a relationship of faith (6). Things are not how they should be. Note that he begins his prayer by asking "How long, Lord?" His prayer is to the Lord. It is in the context of spiritual relationship with God that he makes his plea. This is a Lord he knows and trusts. He trusts God as he waits for an answer (5); he anticipates God's answer based on past experience (6).
Enter into the reality of your life. Complain to God. Request his help and aid. Find the trust in him to rely on him in this way. Make a prayer like this an act of faith in God. And then anticipate his answer, while you wait faithfully in trust and with hope. Amen.