“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This text is probably familiar to you. It is what Jesus utters on the cross before His death. You may also know it from the psalm that Jesus is quoting: Psalm 22.
Psalm 22 is an example of a prayer of lament. What does it mean to lament? According to the Oxford Dictionary, lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.
Though we aren’t sure of the specifics, we can tell David is crying out about a horrible situation. He feels like his enemies are winning, he is despised and mocked.
On the other hand, we know the specifics of Jesus’ circumstances. He was being crucified. He was being unjustly tortured. He was bearing the weight of the sin of the world.
It’s clear that lamentation is coming to God honestly and confessing your anger, sadness, pain and despair. It is not less than that. But it most definitely is more.
So what keeps a lament from becoming a complaint?
After David’s initial confession of despair in verses 1 and 2, he orients his heart toward God.
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (v. 3).
The pain that David is feeling is very real. But so is the goodness and holiness of God. On our darkest nights of questioning and hurting, we must remember who God is.
“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” (vv. 4–5).
David’s present circumstances were hard. But he remembers the deliverance of God. He knows God saved the Israelites from Egypt. He knows God nourished His people in the wilderness. He knows God gave the Promised Land to Israel, despite the odds stacked against them.
On our darkest nights of questioning and hurting, we must remember what God has done. God is faithful. He always has been faithful and always will be faithful. We have 66 books testifying to God’s faithfulness. We have the testimonies of other believers showing God’s faithfulness. We have evidence in our own lives of God’s faithfulness.
Just as David lamented his situation with real, passionate despair and Jesus called out to God in agony, we should confess our hurt and confusion and anger to God. He is a loving and compassionate God. He cares.
Praises to God
Psalm 22 has a total of 31 verses. David uses 16 of those verses to praise God. David uses 15 verses to express his feelings of despair and ask God to intervene.
David even directly praises God for doing the very thing he feels empty of in that moment.
David laments, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (vv. 1b–2).
He then worships God because “He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him” (v. 24).
God will save David because “He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.” God will answer David because “He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him.”
Remember who God is
So don’t be afraid to lament. Bring your emotions, big and small, to God. Confess when you are sad or angry or in despair. But do not neglect to remember who God is and what He’s done. Lamentation is not complaining when your heart is turned toward God and you allow His character and His faithfulness to build you up.