First World Exiles: Returning with Lament
(This is part 2—you can view part 1 here)
It’s okay to tell God you’re not okay.
In fact, whenever I’m tempted to look around at my current situation and complain, I’m reminded I’m not the first person to do so. In the Old Testament, one of the godliest men, King David, complained frequently to God. One such occasion is found in Psalm 13, in which David cries out to the Lord four times, “How long?”
“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 ESV)
While we aren’t sure why David wrote this lament, it’s instructive for us who are in the midst of trials. God seems to have left us, we are awash in negative self-talk and depression, and it feels like the enemy is winning.
As a Christian, I don’t intuitively think I can talk to God this way. If God is big and omnipotent and deserving of honor and respect, how can I, someone so small, accuse him of being unfair or absent? But there it is, right there in the Bible. Even King David talks to God with refreshing honesty.
Sometimes our lament of will this go on forever? lingers over our souls because we have not taken the time to be honest with God. Is this season in our lives an indication that the Lord has left us? Do we honestly struggle with seeing his presence right now?
Over the years my kids have been scared of the dark at bedtime, and every so often one of them would say to me, “Daddy don’t leave me! I want you to be here with me!” And in those moments, I can parent my child’s heart toward comfort. The same is true of our God. When we go to God and honestly confess to him our sorrow and our insecurity, we lift our eyes to his and declare by faith that he can do something about it.
This is how David gets from the beginning of his lament crying “how long?” to the end of it in Psalm 13, which says, “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). How do we explain this change in David’s mood? Verses 1-4 are focused upon David. He is the center of attention. But when he moves into verse 5, everything is flipped! No longer is David the object; he becomes the subject and God becomes the object. The only way to explain this change in David’s perspective is to say that God has shown up!
When God is the object of our life, even in the midst of our joys and sorrows, we live life secure in his promises. I find in the midst of sorrow I want to make myself both the object and the subject together. Isn’t this verse 2? “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” I can almost hear a child in the background crying “me, me, me!” Self-absorption inevitably fails us. But if we make God the object of our sorrow, then faith comes alive. It’s as if we are praying, God I don’t know what will happen next, but I have trusted in your steadfast love and I believe the best is yet to come!
The hope of lament is found in David’s conclusion: “I will sing to the LORD…” (Psalm 13:6). David isn’t singing yet, but he’s believing the time will come when he will sing again. So it is with lament. Lament always leads us to future worship. In lament, our sorrows end in singing and our problems turn to praise. In this way our faith yields in us optimistic sorrow that somehow still glorifies God, because we believe by faith that God works it all out in the end.
Brothers and sisters, we will sing. Both in the gathered physical congregation and in our individual souls. Today’s struggles and sorrows are not eternal. Our distance will not always prevail. We have a rich hope for eternity ahead! But we also trust in the Lord who will bring his people back together. It’s okay to tell him you feel far from home right now. Because we know our God brings all exiles back home.