Suffering is a Part of Life
Paul tells us that all creation laments about its current corrupted condition caused by the Fall. Creation “waits with eager longing,” which means that it watches with an outstretched hand (Romans 8:19). Imagine a child waiting for her grandparents to visit and she sits at the window with her nose pressed up against it, eagerly awaiting their arrival. That’s the picture of creation. Because of suffering, creation is pressed up against the window on its tiptoes with eyes affixed with intent expectancy for Christ’s return.
Creation groans for this day. And, so do we (Rom 8:23). In this sin-cursed world we daily experience one form or another of suffering, pain, trial and discomfort. We look for a voice, a way to express the pain we experience in a way that both honors God and is honest with God.
We ask ourselves:
- “Do I tell God about my suffering?”
- “Is it okay for me to complain to God?”
- “If so, how?”
The Psalms are wonderful expressions of praise, thanksgiving and yes, even complaints. The psalms of lament give us a voice for expressing ourselves as we walk through this perverse world.
With the psalms of lament we can teach people how to complain God’s way.
Some Common Voices We Give to Suffering
There are at least four typical and unbiblical ways we might respond to suffering.
- The Pious Voice
This says that there is no such thing as biblical complaining, because complaining is unbiblical. We must do all things without complaining, right (Phil. 2:14)? This especially includes not complaining to God. “Who do you think you are to talk to God like that?
- The Prosperous Voice
This says that complaining will affect our future prosperity. If we speak negatively we will start in motion a course of events that will only lead to greater calamity and misery.
- The Pompous Voice
We respond with brutal honesty. We shake our fists in the air at God and we tell Him without hindrance that we are not happy. He’s a big god, he can take it.
- The Pity Voice
Here we respond by requesting that everyone’s attention be on us. Everyone must know our pain. We want the pity of the people.
A Godly Voice to Suffering
The tension here is balancing honesty with honor. How do I voice my complaint in a way that is both honest and honoring to the Lord? The lament psalms provide us great practical direction.
Here are some observations about lament psalms (Psalms of lament include, but are not limited to Psalm 6, 13, 22, 30, 31, 32, 51, 69, 91, 102 and 130):
- There are more lament psalms than any other type of psalm.
- They express the extremes of human life—suffering and joy.
- They reflect a crisis from which the psalmist prays for deliverance.
- The laments do not deny God’s sovereignty, presence, knowledge, care or goodness.
- Matter of fact, they depend on those characteristics, because the solution to the problem is always God.
- They are often ambiguous about the details of the problems, allowing us to relate better to what the psalmist is going through.
- The laments express a heart of submission and acceptance of God’s will.
- They are full of praise and thanksgiving in the midst of suffering.
Like other psalms, lament psalms have form and structure. And that structure guides us on how to help others give voice to their suffering.
We can see in lament psalms these elements:
- Complaint and Petition
This is the statement of the perceived problem. The complaint typically boils down to God’s inattentiveness and inaction, knowing that God is sovereign and that the circumstance exists under His direction. The complaint is directed at Him, because He is the only one who can solve it. The psalmist petitions God to be attentive and act.
- Confidence and Praise
He identifies his confidence in God’s character and His ability to attend to the matter and act. What the psalmist knows about God—His sovereignty, wisdom and goodness—gives the psalmist his confidence. He voices his complaint to God and sings His praises without even a change in his circumstance.
(See how these elements appear in Psalm 13 and Psalm 22.)
Practical Instruction on Godly Complaining
- Teach your counselee the difference between complaining man’s way and God’s way.
|Complaining Man’s Way||Complaining God’s Way|
|» Expecting from God what we think He should give or do for us.||» Expecting from God only what He promises to do.|
|» Finding the solution in man.||» Finding the solution in God alone.|
|» Rebelling against and stubbornly refusing to believe God.||» Faithfully accepting and submitting to God.|
|» Doubting God and casting criticism on His justice, goodness and power.||» Trusting God’s justice, goodness and power.|
|» Cultivates more complaining.||» Cultivates praise and thanksgiving.|
|» May result in walking away from God.||» Results in sustained devotion to God.|
|» Reveals a heart that is only devoted to God to the extent that He does for us what we want.||» Reveals a heart that is devoted to God … period.|
- Using a lament psalm, teach your counselee to identify the psalmist’s complaint and petition.
- Teach him to identify the psalmist’s confidence and praise.
- Have your counselee identify his own complaint and petition and write it out, using the lament psalms as his guide.
- Have him identify his confidence and praise and write it out.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18:6, ESV)