Archives For Lament


1O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
    nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
    and your hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh
    because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
    because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
    like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

My wounds stink and fester
    because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
    all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
    and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

O Lord, all my longing is before you;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
    and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
    and my nearest kin stand far off.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
    those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
    and meditate treachery all day long.

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
    like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
    and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
    it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
    who boast against me when my foot slips!”

17 For I am ready to fall,
    and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
    I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
    and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
    accuse me because I follow after good.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
    O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
    O Lord, my salvation!

There is a lot to unpack here but this Psalm is a beautiful example of an Individual Lament that may be categorized as a prayer song of a sinner. Sin (or iniquity) is mentioned four times. If we are careful with our interpretation we will note that he has his complaint against his enemies but the enemies is not the problem but only a hint at the problem.  It’s like the smell of something bad but not the bad thing itself. For David, clearly the root of the problem is his sin. Smarter people than I am tell me that this is a common theme in the Ancient Near East. People do bad things so bad things happen to them (retribution). God surely warned them of the blessings and curses that would come from their obedience or disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28). So David’s symptoms are not the problem.

But that’s just it. The lament is real and the pain is real but it comes from somewhere else. Notice the physical symptoms:

  • no health in his bones – v. 3
  • sides are filled with burning – v. 7
  • he is feeble -v. 8
  • his heart throbs – v.10

You get the picture. There is an association with physical pain and mental anguish for David. Makes sense though when one considers times of anguish in their own lives. I remember a season in my life when I was going through a tough time and there were serious physical ramifications. I could not eat and I remember experiencing severe heartburn. My body ached over the anguish I was experiencing and it was gut-wrenching. The solution for David to all of this anguish seems to be in verse 18: his confession of sin and remorse for wrong-doing. There was no grey-area for David as the pain (both internal and external) he was experiencing was directly correlated to his own spiritual brokenness. You and I can sit down over a cup of coffee and smirk at his rather “unlearned” theology but David was a staunch warrior for God. He was in the trenches.

Discussion Questions

  1. Talk about a time where you experienced physical pain from spiritual anguish. What was it like? Describe the circumstances.
  2. Do you think it is right to say that many of our difficult times is due to our sinfulness? Explain.
  3. How is David’s resolve to confess his sin a helpful solution for our laments?

This week we plan on journeying through a category of psalms called Lament Psalms. If you could envision psalms of praise being the expressions of the heart at its most joyful point you might say that lament psalms are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Lament psalms are those expressions of the psalmist that come from moments of deep angst, torment and often fear. Have you ever had a moment where you were so confused and had no clue as to what God was doing? In walks the lament psalm. Typically there are two types of lament psalms: individual laments (these are personal) and laments of the people (these are communal or corporate).

Think of it this way: there are some seasons in our lives where we are individually going through painful experiences and so we take (i.e., “lament”) these expressions to God but then things happen to us corporately (church, nation, etc.) that cause us to “lament” expressions to God. Laments vary in form but typically will have a few (some have all) of the components below:[1]

  1. Address and Introductory Petition
  2. Lament
  3. Confession of Trust
  4. Petition
  5. Vow of Praise

You can even divide the Psalms of Lament into their own subcategories: 1) prayer songs of the individual, 2) community prayer songs and 3) thanksgiving songs.[2] There is a lot more we could do to unpack these psalms as far as form and function but at the core of these psalms lies a basic truth: It’s ok to be real with God. Did you catch that?

IT’S OK TO BE REAL WITH GOD!!!

We live in a Western Culture that hides behind facades, masks and lies to cover real heart issues. The people of God has always been able to express their doubts, fears, frustrations, anger and other raw emotions to God knowing that he is the only one who can place those fears into their proper contexts. Perhaps you have heard a preacher pound the lectern while preaching proclaiming, “We should never, ever doubt the ways of God!” That’s kind of funny when you read what David wrote in Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I guess David was weak in his faith right?

Or maybe David had an intense faith knowing that God understands our hearts so we might as well be brutally honest and place those laments at the feet of the Almighty God! Bullock has an amazing comment that we would be wise to read… and re-read:

While the boldness and naked honesty of the psalmists may shock us, this attitude is nevertheless instructive for our spiritual lives. We sometimes hold back too much from God, conceal our true feelings in prayer, and create a false image of ourselves at the heavenly throne of grace. What would happen to us and to our relationship to God if we were truly honest with him and with ourselves?[3]

I think many of us know the answer to Bullock’s question: our relationship would strengthen and become as deep as it is wide. So this week we are going to journey through some lament psalms and talk about our own struggles. But… some questions for discussion…

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do we tend to mask our true feelings from God?
  2. Does doubt have its place in the Christian faith? Why or why not?
  3. What are some experiences in your life that led you to lament to God?

[1] Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 136.

[2] Ibid., 138.

[3] Ibid., 138.


In my morning reading I came across a familiar passage and wanted to share it with you and some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

Perhaps your experience is similar to mine in that when this verse is read, quoted or used it is within the context of atheists. I have heard many Christians say, “How could someone not believe in God? The Scripture says ________.” They will quote Psalm 14:1. I think people do not believe in God for a variety of reasons (hypocritical Christians?) but I wonder if we could go a different direction with the interpretation of this Psalm. Let me ask the question, “Who is the fool in Psalm 14?” They are those, contextually, who God looks down and sees that the people are 1) not understanding, 2) not seeking after him, 3) they have turned aside, and 4) become corrupt (14:2-3). Now surely this broadens our interpretation of simply atheists. Surely you know some folks at church that fit the bill there right?

Look at how Eugene Peterson words the Psalm in The Message

1 Bilious and bloated, they gas, “God is gone.”
Their words are poison gas,
fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.

2 God sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.

3 He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow their fellow.

I wonder then, who is the fool? I find it interesting that Psalms 14:1-3 is quoted nearly verbatim in Romans 3:10-12. The context there is that we are all sinners in need of the justification of God by faith. So then is it a stretch to say that the fool in Psalm 14 who says “there is no God” might be us? The immediate context for David are the enemies of his kingdom but the larger implication is that sometimes we are fools. Consider the following:

  • We are fools when we do not believe God will deliver us in a difficult situation.
  • We are fools when we try to conduct ministry, spiritual formation and kingdom-work on our own without the guidance of our Father.
  • We are fools when we do not lead our families spiritually.
  • We are fools when we try to bind things in Scripture that God never intended to be bound.
  • We are fools when we make it our goal to “correct” every person’s theology whom we have contentions with as if we can come up with a perfect theology on our own.
  • We are fools when we neglect the poor and build massive buildings (does Babel ring a bell?) and have big-screen TV’s, elaborate pulpits complete with techno-savvy ways to make ministry “easier.”
  • We are fools when we do not evangelize and disciple others.
  • We are fools when we judge people, as if we are the perfect standard.
  • We are fools when we say God can’t do something, as if our existence were not evidence for God being able to do something.
  • We are fools when we keep sin to ourselves.
  • We are fools when we spend too much time at work and forget our families.
  • We are fools when we do not take care of ourselves physically.
  • We are fools when we isolate ourselves in our Christian bubble, forgetting that God actually came in the flesh.
  • We are fools to think God does not care about us (how many hairs do you have on your head again? God knows).
  • We are fools not to learn from the past, redeem the present and wait, with hope, for the future.
  • Finally, we are fools when we think it is up to us to become righteous.

Tough list. I look at it and mourn. Because I want to be honest with you, I am a fool. At times, my actions and thoughts reveal the claim that there is no God even thought intuitively I know there is. Sad. Christ, forgive me.

Who is the fool?

 

 


Does the Bible offer hope to teenagers who live with emotional and spiritual pain?  What about all the suffering that exists in the world today?  What can we do as Christians to help others through these tough times?  In this post I want to share with you a few different ways to explain to teens how to endure pain and what God is ultimately doing to evil and suffering in the end.

The problem of our pain and suffering has a source and if we do not understand that source then we will not understand the solutions that God provides.  The problem that exists in this world is sin.  If we do not place the blame on sin, then we will not understand the answers God provides in the Bible.  Sin is the cause and reason for pain and suffering.

Sin began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6).  We find in the rest of Genesis 3 that every area of life was dramatically affected by sin.  This sin has touched the world around us.  The entire message of the Bible from Genesis 3 on is how God is dealing with this sin problem.  Let us look at some of the solutions to this problem.

The first solution to the problem of evil and suffering is to understand your purpose.  The Bible tells us that our purpose is to know God (Philippians 3:10).  This may not give a solution but it may give you motivation to endure what you are going through.  There are two ways to find a purpose in your suffering.  The first is to know that God wants you holy, not happy (1 Peter 1:15).  This may mean that the suffering that is taking place is intended to make you a better person.  God does not care how happy you are if you are leading a life that will end up in hell!  The suffering that comes from our personal sin helps us turn back to God.  We must also remember that some of the things we endure make us look to a loving, heavenly Father for answers.  Another perspective from your purpose of knowing God is that the pain and suffering may be a test of spiritual maturity.  Do you love God for God’s sake, or for what you get from God?  Much of the pain we endure can bring about glory for God or can remind us about spiritual truths.  Death is a reminder of our short time on earth.  Suffering as a Christian can be a testament to others who see our faith.  Just enduring suffering with an understanding that God still loves us is an amazing tool for evangelism and encouragement.  These two areas of knowing God help us to look at pain, evil, and suffering differently.

The second solution to pain and suffering is that we need to understand that on the cross, Jesus did the ultimate judo move to sin.  If sin is the ultimate enemy, then what Jesus accomplished on the cross defeats its power.  What is the essence of the marital art of judo?  To use your enemy’s strengths against them!  Think about what Jesus does for us on the cross.  1) He defeated all the political evil that exists in the world.  He was tried and found guilty unjustly by Pontius Pilate.  2)  He also defeated all the religious evils.  The Pharisees and Sadducees called for his arrest and crucifixion.  3)  All the Satanic evil was defeated.  Satan entered Judas’ heart to turn Jesus over to the authorities.  These three areas were turned against themselves with Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection three days later.  There is hope for us all in the fact that the cross took the evil in the world and defeated it!

The third area is my personal favorite.  We need to understand that in the end God makes everything new!  Revelation 21:5 says this, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  Stop and think about this for just a second.  God does not say, “Behold, I am making all new things.”  What God says is that “I am making all things new,” in that order.  God, in the end, takes all that is wrong in the world and put it back to what is right!  Romans 8 gives an even clearer picture when it says in verse 21, “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  Even the evils that fall on us from the physical world will be made right in the end!  The final message of the Bible is that in the end, God makes everything new!  What has existed in this sinful, broken world will be made right in the end.  Isn’t that more of what we long for than just a simple answer in the midst of our suffering?  

 As we close, I am reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis when we think of the day when Christ returns and turns all that is wrong back to the way God wants it to be.  Lewis says, “they say of some temporal suffering, ‘no future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”   Today, we eagerly wait for that glory and we need to understand that with Christ’s work on the cross all pain, evil, and suffering has been defeated!

Barry Throneberry has been the youth and family minister at the Highland Church of Christ for over 8 years.  He is married to Rebecca Schwartz Throneberry and writes a blog called Theology with Throneberry.  He is also part of the team that does the Studentminister.com podcast.  His interests are in the areas of Theology, Spiritual Disciplines, and Apologetics.

His name is Ted Mackenzie and he is my hero.  He also happens to be my father and for many reasons  I am thankful for him but probably the greatest quality I admire in this man is his devotion to me and Donnie no matter what.  I was a problem child for most of the 22 years I lived with him.  Detentions, suspensions, F’s on my report card, blatant disobedience, and a host of other things.  However, he stuck with me even in the hard times.  I imagine the most difficult thing for my dad to do was to watch me fail time after time when he knew there was so much more potential in me.  I remember a particularly rough moment in my life and I started crying and ran away, dad chased me and I ran in the basement and tried to run away from him and he held me in his arms and started crying.  I cried some growing up and I am sure Dad did as well but that was one of the few times we cried together.   

Dad, for me, was much like Boaz was for Ruth (obviously in a different connotation but you understand).  Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew goel). The kinsman-redeemer in Israelite culture was the closest relative who would redeem their kin in times of trouble so that the women could have a chance in a male-dominated society (this is too short of a synopsis so click here for more information).  In short, Boaz sought to redeem Ruth but the problem was there was a kinsman-redeemer who was nearer to Ruth in kinship than Boaz (3:11-12).  Ruth tells the news to Naomi and this is her reaction:

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.  For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”  (3:18)

The New Living Translation renders the word “wait” as, “Be patient” but the Hebrew word for “wait” is yashav and literally means to “sit or to dwell.”  In the most literal sense Naomi is telling Ruth to sit there while Boaz (and God!) tries to consult the nearest kinsman-redeemer.  This may seem like a moot point to you but for Ruth this is her whole world.  This is her one chance and now she has to wait.  

Sound familiar?  Some of us have gone through some of the worst pain we have ever had to face.  We did not ask for it but it came nonetheless.  People keep telling us, “Everything is going to be all right,” yet we see none of that!  All we see is pain…

anguish…

an empty side of the bed…

an empty desk in a classroom… 

the sound of silence where laughter and joy once roamed. 

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.”    That’s tough.

A Call to Anguish

November 12, 2009 — 1 Comment

My teenagers informed me of this video by David Wilkerson who founded Times Square Church in New York City.  I disagree with his prophecy views as he is said to have predicted economic disasters etc.  I do agree with the premise of this message and I think it is one that is most powerful. 

Perhaps we do need to be in anguish.  Maybe we do need to lament and repent in dust and ashes.  What do you think?


A lady in our congregation recently lost her husband and I remember visiting her during the process of hospice and waiting for him to die.  There was nothing I could say to comfort her or to erase the pain she was encountering.  The day he passed I remember walking in the house and just going up to her and hugging her.  She wept in my arms and I said nothing.  What do you say to someone who just lost their best friend?  Nothing.  I did not offer trite words like “God loves you,” or, “He’s in a better place now,” because I knew deep down that those would not help her.  I said nothing. 

Job’s three friends (four counting Elihu in chapters 32-37) traveled a great distance to be with him and mourn with him.  Different cultures (and religions) have different practices when it comes to mourning.  In Protestant White America (generally speaking) most of the mourning is done quietly and very personally where as in African-American culture (generally speaking) mourning is much more communal and is very vocal and participatory (wailing, etc.).  These friends are sharing the current Ancient Near Eastern practices of the time and even the rudimentary Jewish customs of mourning.  Simply put: they are with their grieving brother. 

Why God?  Why?  (Job 3)

Chapter 3 is split into 2 (normally 3) sections: Job’s Curse (vv. 1-13) and his Lament (vv. 14-26).  We are quick to question Job’s motives for cursing his birth (what Hartley calls a counter-cosmic incantation) but let me remind you that until we walk in the shoes of the bereaved, we should be very careful how we analyze their behaviors.  Simply put: Job wants all recognition of his life to end.  One can see the parallels of his experience with his curse of his birth:

  • “Darkness” (v. 4)
  • “Nor light” (v. 4)
  • “Gloom” (v. 5)
  • “Deep Darkness”  (v. 5)
  • “Clouds” (v. 5)
  • “Blackness of the day” (v. 5)
  • “Thick Darkness” (v. 6)

We could go on but you get the picture.  The picture is, well, dark and gloomy.  Nothing makes sense to Job so he curses his life to be removed from the pain he is enduring.  So much so…that he laments.  5 times in verses 11-26 (11, 12, 16, 20, 23) Job begins with the question, “Why?”  That’s a most interesting question isn’t it?  Clearly he is lamenting at the why’s of his situation but still going back to his previous message about his birth. 

He searches for meaning…but finds none. 

Retribution 101: you get what you deserve (Job 4)

Eliphaz speaks and you will notice that each friend feels like he or she is an expert on things.  All of them point towards a modified retribution theory because nothing else makes sense.  “Job, you a clearly getting what you deserve BECAUSE you have done _____________.”  You fill in the blank.  Eliphaz paints a grim picture but does so because he could not resist in speaking to Job’s situation (4:2-6).  The two driving questions come from 4:7-8 and 4:17: 

 

Lessons Learned:

Something that spoke to me is that we should never try to question someone in the grieving process.  Their thinking may be off and may be incorrect but it is what they are going through and we must simply allow them to hurt even if it means going against God (not implying that is what Job is doing only making a statement about what some people do).  

Secondly, there is a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time to say something and a time to stay quiet.  Something I would not say to someone who is grieving, “You are impatient” (4:5).  Why do the righteous suffer?  Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?  We may never know in our finitude until we reach the infinitude of God.  that is the embedded question for theology thursdays.  One things I am still earning is this: if you think you have the answer to somebody’s problem you better rethink it because you really do not have a clue. 

Questions for Thought

  1. What are you reactions to Job’s intense curse and lament in chapter 3? 
  2. Have you ever felt like Job before?
  3. In what ways can we empathize with Eliphaz speaking the things he did?
  4. What are your thoughts about divine retribution (aka getting what we deserve)? 

I look forward to next week when we consider Eliphaz’s encouragment for Job to repent and Job’s reply!  Stay tuned!