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Models of Lament

Truth In Love 366

Can godly people have bad emotions? How can we express our questions, emotions, and sorrow to God in faith?

Jun 6, 2022

Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast. I have one of my good friends, Dr. Ernie Baker. Dr. Baker has been a professor of Biblical Counseling at the Master’s University for 17 years. Currently, he’s the chair of their online bachelor’s degree program. He also serves in pastoral ministry, which he has done for over 40 years, specifically right now, he’s the pastor of counseling discipleship at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida is also one of our training centers. He leads the Grace Counseling Center as well. So grateful for Dr. Baker and the conversations that we get to have.

Today we’re going to talk about this issue of lamenting. Sometimes we think about sorrow in very different ways. Sometimes we even feel guilty about sorrow that we may have. Dr. Baker, I want you to talk to us today from Psalm 42 and from Psalm 43 about just the beauty that God gives in encouraging us to lament. Some people may ask that very question, “Can godly people lament, can godly people have these types of emotions or what we would consider to be bad emotions, sometimes we feel guilty about that. So, is that possible?”

Ernie Baker: Thanks Dale. I love these Psalms because they are so real, they are raw, but they wrestle with real issues like that very question, which is “Can godly people have bad emotions?” And when I teach these Psalms, and when I’m using them for training counselors, I urge the counselors to not have the mentality that if you’re godly you wouldn’t suffer with depression or struggle with depression, or if you’re godly you would not struggle with anxiety. These are obviously godly people or else they wouldn’t be writers of Scripture, and God is giving them the words to articulate the struggle that they’re having. So, I think it’s really obvious as you read through the Psalms, as they’re wrestling with —I’m just looking down to verse 5 right now. “Why are you in despair? O, my soul.” They’re obviously struggling with some very raw emotions and they’re godly people. So, I want to teach my counselees not that they shouldn’t have bad emotions, but I want to teach more accurately that godly people know what to do with their inevitable bad emotions. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s such a helpful nuance, especially when the voices in our culture are saying something radically different. They’re taking any of those bad or what we would consider to be unwanted emotions. So certainly nobody enjoys to feel sorrow deeply as the psalmist in Psalm 42, and so we start to listen to those voices of our culture and we feel guilty, we feel bad about these things. But you’re rightly nuancing it, according to the Scripture to help our counselees to understand these emotions and how we should respond appropriately. So, that sort of leads to a different question. Maybe even all together, even when we get settled that these types of emotions are a normal part of living life in response to difficulty and suffering in grievous situations that we have. We don’t know how to talk to God about these things. Sometimes we wonder is it godly or am I a mature Christian if I ask God, a ‘why’ question? I want to know, “God, why is this happening?”

Ernie Baker: There are all kinds of ‘why’ questions in the Psalms. So, just to repeat again, if it means you’re ungodly to ask ‘why’ questions, then you have a whole bunch of really ungodly people in the Psalms. I even think of our Lord when He’s on the cross. He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, to repeat the same principle, I don’t want to teach people that you don’t ask ‘why’ questions. The Lord already knows your ‘why’ questions. He knows what’s going on in your soul. I want to teach people how to ask the ‘why’ questions the right way. And there’s a difference between a ‘why’ as a rebel shaking your fist at God. And I mean, being quite honest, some of the Psalms even get close to that. Like, I’m thinking of Psalm 73 with Asaph in Psalm 73. But we ask God questions just from a pleading heart of “Why? I don’t understand. Help me to understand why this is going on.” And I believe the Lord wants to help answer those questions. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, you see these types of questions certainly here in Psalm 42. But as you mentioned, Jesus asking these questions, Job asking similar questions. So these questions are not offensive to God and I like the way that you described that it depends on the type of heart that we are responding out of in the way in which we ask God questions. Do we want to hear from Him? And so, it’s important, I think as we transition, and I’m grateful. I would encourage a counselee to take any of these laments to God. Don’t take them in complaints to other people, right? So we want to push them in the direction to who God is, but specifically about these Psalms, Psalm 42, Psalm 43. It’s important to know who God is and who we’re bringing the lament to.

So, who is God in these Psalms? And why do you think that that’s an important thing for us to understand? 

Ernie Baker: Well, there’s only between the two Psalms and I think they were originally one Psalm and we don’t have to go into all the details for that. But there’s a lot of evidence that these were originally one Psalm. There’s only 16 verses and I found between the 16 verses, at least 15 truths about who God is. And so, while the psalmist, while the sons of Korah are suffering, and they are not really clear what the suffering is. We just know it’s intense. They’re being mocked. There’s some nostalgia going on there, remembering the good old days. There’s oppression. Two different times oppression is talked about there being lied about, there’s injustice going on. So there’s a lot of intense pressure represented in these two Psalms.

But the main thing he wants to indicate is that in these 16 verses, there are at least 15 truths about who the God of the universe is. And all you have to do is just scan down through them. He’s a God of loving-kindness. He’s a God of presence. He’s with us. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He’s with us in the night. So he gives songs in the night which tells me that the psalmist was not sleeping probably. And then one I love is in verse 9 of chapter 42, “I will say to God, my rock.” I mean, that just sings with beauty that God wants to be our Rock in the midst of absolutely horrible circumstances. And I believe that the way the Lord becomes your Rock is by clinging to truth despite the circumstances. As Jerry Bridges would say, trust is not a passive state of mind, it’s a vigorous act of the soul by where we cling to the promises of God, despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us. And that’s what’s happening here in Psalms 42 and 43 is, you have the psalmist, he even says that he’s feeling like the waterfalls and the breakers. And he says, they’re actually from God, which that raises theological questions of theodicy, and how can God be involved with this? But Your waves and Your breakers are overwhelming me, but I’m clinging to these truths of who You are. I would urge the listeners to meditate on Psalms 42 and 43, and just think about the character of God and then I have to tell myself, okay, it’s not just good enough to read this. I have to fight with my soul. Do I really believe this?

Dale Johnson: Amen, yeah. Sometimes that’s a difficult thing, but I’m finding myself even now, as you’re describing God in this way. What a refreshing response to know that this is the God that we serve. But even in these Psalms, we look at the setting or the circumstances, and to hear the psalmist describe God in these ways, as a Rock, the circumstances help us to see the greater depth of that truth about who God is. Describe for us a little bit about the circumstances here. 

Ernie Baker: Well, it’s not really clear what the circumstances are. As I was reading Spurgeon, Spurgeon actually thinks these are written by David, and he wrote them for the sons of Korah to sing and to lead in worship. So that’s one possibility. And if that’s true, you have all kinds of circumstances in David’s life, like when he’s in the wilderness or he’s being attacked, or even being betrayed by his son. But the things that are clear from the P9salm is there’s intense heat, and he even says in 42:1 that’s causing the deer to pant. And we have this cute little worship song that we sing about that, but we forget it’s the heat that’s causing the deer to pant, and that’s really how godly walks are distilled. It’s in the heat of life, as you choose what you’re going to believe, and then he’s remembering the good old days of how he used to lead people in worship. He says, in chapter 43 verse 1, there are deceitful people and unjust people there. I already mentioned the word ‘oppression’ is used two different times in chapter 42, then it’s used in chapter 43 again. He’s being reviled, so he’s being mocked a couple of different times there. Mocking him and saying, “where is your God?” So, whatever the actual circumstances are. We don’t really, can’t tell, but what we can put together is it’s a bad situation. There’s a lot of intense heat in this person’s life.

Dale Johnson: And that’s helpful. And our posture should be even when that intense heat happens, we should look to God. I mean, this is the point, right, of that passage. Now, for those of you who are listening. I want you to pay attention to sort of the flow of what’s happened today. How Ernie has led us through this passage of Scriptures. We asked a question about the realities that a person experiences and yet, we found that those experiences are explained in a very healthy, God-honoring way in the Scriptures. And then, I’ve asked him questions about the study of the Scripture. How do we know who God is? How do we ask proper questions? How do we lament well, as he describes in models of lament, we looked at the circumstances and that’s all good.

Now, I want us to bring that in application. For you as counselors, you need to understand that the way that we arrived at application is good study of the Scriptures. Understanding what God is actually saying, not dehumanizing the people of the Bible, but understanding that they’re walking through life and the difficulties of life in many of the same ways that we are. And so, we arrived now. Ernie, I want to ask you, so you take this information that you’ve learned through the study of God’s word, personal devotion and how the Lord has ministered to you. How do you then go and use this in the counseling room to minister to others? 

Ernie Baker: Very thankful you ask that. So, I think of these Psalms in general, but these Psalms in particular, have ministered to my soul, and it’s the type of walk I want to have with the Lord. I don’t want to have a theoretical walk with the Lord. One of my mentors, and many people’s mentor, was David Powlison, and one of the phrases that I learned from him is a Psalmic faith. I want to have a Psalmic faith. It’s a real faith. It’s not a theoretical. It’s in the ups and downs, the woes, and the joys of life that we’re clinging to the Lord. I want to teach my counselees how to have a Psalmic faith, which is a real deep. Jonathan Edwards would call it a theocentric worldview. I want to have a God-saturated view of life because that’s what’s going to cause stability. Some of the things that I do is I teach them how to write prayers of lament. And so, I’ll say as an assignment, “Why don’t you use Psalms 42 and 43 as a model to write your own prayer? But put your circumstances right into Psalms 42 and 43.”

I’ll just give you an example of it how I might teach. We’ve had a number of very serious domestic abuse cases, and how we might teach a woman to use Psalm 43:1, where she says, “Oh Lord, vindicate me because the judges are not listening to me. I’m pleading my case before you Lord, against an ungodly husband who has been a deceitful, and an unjust man. And so, Lord, I’m pleading for your Justice in this case.” So I’m teaching her how to articulate the pain and the questions that are going on inside of her, as she has faced an oppressor. Another thing that I do is I have people memorize that definition of trust by Jerry Bridges because I believe it really represents what it really means to trust in God. That it’s me fighting with my soul to believe the promises of God, despite the circumstances that are going on. I’ll raise questions from these Psalms. So the psalmist, says “hope in God,” which can also be translated “wait for God,” and so I might raise questions of: Okay, let’s think about what have you been hoping in? What was your hope in? Maybe you’re in depression now. Scripture says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). So a person is depressed now. Well, I want to explore what were your hopes in, and another one related to God being your rock? What have you been making your rocks? What have you been making your refuges, as you go through this intense suffering? And just teach them how do you live life like the psalmist lived life. Journaling, that’s a very helpful thing to do with these Psalms. So those are some ideas of how I would use these Psalms.

Dale Johnson: Ernie, this is great. I’m telling you guys, if you will listen to what the Lord has taught some of our seasoned counselors, and what Ernie did today was modeled for you the beauty of the Word in how we study it and how it ministers to us. And then how we are able to understand people, the issues they’re walking through and applying the Word after studying, understanding it clearly. That is the model. That is the means by which we find application that’s a balm for the soul of those who are broken. So, thank you brother for modeling that well for us.