|March 9, 2019
By John Arthur
Psalm 13 (NIV):
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
The book of Psalms was a collection of songs for ancient Israel. Of the 150 lyric poems present in the hymnal, 67 are psalms of lament—songs that cry out to God in complaint. This is the single largest category of psalms. All psalms of lament have one thing in common: the focal point of the song is complaint. For some readers, this may be hard to hear. Complaint! How can this be? There are certainly words of address, confession, trustworthiness, petition, and hints foreshadowing salvation within these songs, but these elements are not the primary focus. It was suffering, not praise, that inspired these songs of the heart.
Working in an acute regional healthcare system, I have seen much suffering. Surely, the human condition is fraught with illness, decline, anxiety, isolation, fear, confusion, and ultimately, death. It is in these moments that we, like the psalmist, seek God’s face. The hiding of God’s face mentioned in Psalm 13 may remind of the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:24-26, as could the thrice-mentioned Lord and the seeking of light for renewal contained in its verses. In these dark times, though the soul still retains its capacity for faith, hope, and meaningful encounter, there is still an urgent need within us to cry out to God in complaint. The hefty inclusion of psalms of lament in the biblical canon assures us that God not only welcomes our complaints, but also that these are music to his ears. Imagine that: a God who does not feel defensive when we shout at him in honest agony! Rather, ours is a God who wrestles with us through pressing anxiety to urgent prayer and, ultimately, to expectant rejoicing as we crave light for our eyes and a turning of God’s face toward us.
Lent is a time for wrestling within as we wander through our wildernesses. It is a time of lamenting the felt separation from our Creator. It is also a time of coming to a deeper experience of the One who has called us to himself. My hope for all of us during this season is that we are able to live honestly before God and find within us the boldness to struggle with God so deeply that at times, only a well-crafted poem of complaint will suffice.