The best way to learn this language of lament is to enter into the prayers made available to us. These are intimate windows into the human soul, the creation condition, and the heart of God.
Let’s consider Psalm 13, a lament of King David:
David is at the end of his rope. He is tired of trying, almost to the point of despair. In the midst of his physical and emotional fatigue, he cries out to the Lord: “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?” (13:1-2).
How often have we wanted to ask this very question: “How long! How long must I carry around this burden, how long will this conflict continue, how long will I be single, how long will I go unrecognized, how long will the oppressed be silenced?” We have asked these questions with wet cheeks and clenched fists, but have we directed our cry to God? Though he wonders if God has removed his hand from his life, David’s words are decidedly addressed to God: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (13:3). He is not just venting. He wants answers. He wants to see a light at the end of the tunnel, the light of God’s presence, the light of justice. Anything else feels like death.
If God seems distant and if David has been running in his own strength for so long, what hope does he have for crossing the chasm that seems to separate them? What hope does he have of being delivered from his circumstances and sorrow and into the light of God’s presence? What reason does he have to believe that God will bridge the divide and answer his cry for help? He leans not on his present experience of God, but rather the eternal character of God: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (13:5).
The Hebrew word for “steadfast love” is hesed, a rich, complex word that means so much more than what we often mean when we say “love.” If you take away the context, then it’s easy to reduce love to something that is basically sentimental, which is how many people think of God’s love. Most people would say that God is a loving God, but their notion of God’s love lacks substance because it has been removed from the context of redemptive history, wherein his mighty deeds toward his people flow from his covenantal commitment to them. The hesed of God is a combination of strength in action, fierce commitment, and tender emotional care.
God is a mighty warrior, a faithful husband, and a wise Father. This is love that David remembers and trusts in his time of need. This is how he can begin with “How long?” and end with “my heart shall rejoice.”
The goal of deliverance is always worship. May the love of God fill us up and turn our complaints and rants into a prayer of faith and a song of praise.
(Journey to the Cross: Readings and Devotions for Lent, pp. 80-84)