Advent in the Psalms No. 3: Lament (22)
Words by Autumn Kern // Image by Dori Nix
The Advent season is marked by the tension of joyous celebration that Jesus once came as a baby, and hopeful expectation for when he will come again as King. This tension weighs on us in our varying circumstances, bringing forth a myriad of emotions and expectations. Some enter Advent with joy, some with hope, and some with pain. This same range of emotion is woven throughout the songs and poems of the Psalms. The ancient writers were of the human variety: the joyous, expectant, and thankful. They were also the brokenhearted, bruised, and rejected. These complexities created something more than an endless string of jolly choruses of happy thoughts. The Psalms are the sincere cries and praises of God’s children.
We chose to work through the different genres of the Psalms for Advent because the songs and poems repeatedly point the reader to the hope of Emmanuel—God with us—despite the unique seasons of our lives. Today, we’ll meditate on a psalm of lament. If you’ve entered Advent in a period of deep fear or desperation, know that your expression of pain and sorrow is still praise. The psalmist implores us to find solace and comfort in the person of God by remembering his past faithfulness as we turn from ourselves and look toward him.
Sometimes it feels as though you can’t be too honest about grief or sorrow if you’re a Christian. Before you’ve even finished sharing about a trial or struggle, a well-intentioned friend reminds you to count it all joy and ushers you past honesty to forced happiness. There is a better way—a proper way—to walk through pain and suffering that is both honest in struggle and glorifying to God. Scripture shows us a way to lament for our good and his glory. This is what we see in Psalm 22.
This psalm is attributed to David—the famous king of Israel who was known as “a man after God’s own heart” but also as a liar, adulterer, and, murderer. While God established David’s family as the royal dynasty which would rule forever through Christ, David’s life was also marked by pain, trial, and sorrow (I Chron. 17). In this psalm, David models how to lament in a way that is both sincere and glorifying to God. He is unashamedly honest and transparent about his circumstances, his feelings, and his questions. Yet after each cry of anguish, he immediately reminds himself of God’s unchanging, always faithful, and holy character. For every thought of man-centered hopelessness, David shares of God-centered hope. He repeatedly uses memories of God’s past faithfulness to guide his heart back to faith through prayer. This is how we ought to lament.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” (vs. 1–5)
David opens his psalm with the direct address of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the same words Christ cried out to the Father as he suffered on the cross (Matt. 27:46). They are not words passed between strangers or children attempting to hide their pain and anguish. These words of lament are the desperate cries of those who know God deeply and intimately. We should not hide from our God, rather our lamentation is offered because he is our God.
Through this psalm, David freely asks questions of God, but the questions do not challenge the nature or sovereignty of God; they highlight David’s submission to him. We see that the psalmist understands it is God who saves, God who offers rest, and God who answers with perfect wisdom (vs. 1–2). David’s submissive questioning of God turns him from his suffering back to who God is. In verse three we see the psalmist’s mind reorient from his groaning and restlessness to sing of God’s character: holy, trustworthy, and faithful. Regardless of what happens circumstantially, God remains the same (vs. 3). As evidence, David reminds himself of the times God saved the nation of Israel but also of God’s faithfulness to him personally (vs. 9–10). Every word laced with pain and longing is met with song of God’s gracious and constant care of his children, corporately and personally.
“But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” (vs. 19–21)
Lamenting reveals the core of our humanity; it shows us that we are not God and that we need God. David surveys his circumstances and becomes hopeless when he sees that he is unable to control, fix, or force the outcome of his situation (vs. 11–18). As he works through a man-centered perspective, he realizes his lack and weariness. The imagery given in verse 17 is startling: “I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me.” But he knows the only one who has promised to be his deliverer.
God is described as the helper, deliverer, savior, and rescuer (v. 19–21). God must be faithful because it is his nature to be faithful, so David asks God to be who God is (2 Tim. 2:13). He is repeating—for his own benefit—what God has already promised to do for his children. David’s human-caused and human-experienced laments are answered only by God-focused and God-spoken truths.
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” (vs. 27–28)
Since God can only be faithful, and because he is working all things together for our good and his ultimate glory, he—in his perfect timing according to his perfect will—rescues David (Rom. 8:28). David launches into joyful song praising God for never despising, abhorring, or hiding from his children (vs. 24). What God has said about himself in Scripture is true; he is always good and, therefore, unable to be unfaithful to us or his own plans for eternity (Ps. 145:9).
Furthermore, God’s purposes for suffering are tied into the larger redemption story of Scripture. David praises God that his personal lament becomes a personal testimony, which encourages his fellow Israelites, and eventually shares God’s faithfulness with surrounding people groups (vs. 23–26). David declares his trial will ensure that future generations will know of how good God is to his people.
And here we are. One of those future generations.
We have heard the good works of God declared from eternity past and ache to see them completed in eternity future (Phil. 1:6). We live in the middle ground of redemption history; it’s in this time that we will continue to suffer, lament, and praise. Our world is one of sin and brokenness, so we will walk—like David—through trials that make us feel alone, forgotten, overwhelmed, and broken beyond belief. We will wrestle through the heaviness of being in the “already but not yet” (Rom. 8:18–19). We will fight to remember the Lord’s great faithfulness to his people and cling to the hope of the summation of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). We’ll lament, and we’ll praise.
Friend, when fear and desperation engulf you, find solace in who God is. His character is unchanging and his faithfulness is certain. Be like the psalmists who repeated to themselves stories of God’s prior faithfulness: from creation, to the cross, to the individual moments of your life. Each of our stories weave together in the greater narrative of God’s people; the Psalms are for us too. When we walk through seasons of lament, we bring our hearts to a place of humble prayer and deep trust by remembering God’s steadfastness and love towards us. This Advent, if you’re wrestling like David, remember God in the flesh. Remember the baby born to fulfill the promises of Scripture so that you could come freely to the Father. Remember the One who has called you as a dead man and made you alive, by his grace, in Jesus. Remember his promise to make all things right in Jesus—even this single trial (Rom. 12:17–21).
When we look backwards to remember God’s good works, it’s the person, life, and work of Jesus that reveals his love manifested in the flesh for us. Our God was with us. Our God is still with us. Our God will forever be with us. Hope is ours.