Before they call I will answer;Isaiah 65:24
while they are yet speaking
I will hear.
Have you noticed that in the Bible’s hymnbook, the Psalms, roughly a third are songs of lament? You may know some of them by heart: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22). “Oh God, why do you cast us off forever?” (Psalm 74). “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42). “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people” (Psalm 43).
These psalms of lament teach us how to file a complaint with God. And complaining isn’t whining; if you’ve ever read your medical records, you’ll know that medical complaints are simply the physical symptoms of your distress. When you go to your doctor, you’re not whining; you’re just explaining where you hurt. You list your complaints because you know your condition should receive attention. It may not go away; some of the symptoms may remain. But you’ve gone to someone who can do something about it.
Likewise, lamenting is calling God’s attention to what he already knows: you’re hurting, and it’s no fun. That miserable situation forces you to acknowledge that you aren’t a self-made person. You depend on God for your very life—but sometimes it takes a fearsome calamity to impress that dependence upon you and bring you to the point of lament. That lament is a cry of faith.
And so God in his grace invites you to complain—to bring your hurts and your miseries to him. It’s okay that these things feel too big for you; there’s no real way to cope with disaster and tragedy on your own. It’s important to not keep these troubles bottled up inside ourselves. Like any loving father, God, in his mercy, invites us to come to him and talk. So like a little child, we crawl into his lap by means of our lament, telling him exactly where it hurts and asking him for help: “Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 6:4).
Trusting his cross-shaped love
That’s the hard part, isn’t it: believing our God is gracious, even when tragedy strikes. We reason that if God is almighty, we shouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. By all appearances he either is unable to help or doesn’t care. That’s why it’s essential at all times—but especially in the midst of tragedy—that we rely not on our own speculations but rather on God’s sure word. If we only draw on our experience of calamity, the steadfast love of the Lord will remain invisible. Looking at our pain and misery alone, we’re tempted to conclude that God is angry with us.
But God’s true perspective on human suffering is revealed not in our experience but in that of Jesus on the cross. There, God’s own beloved Son suffered in great agony of body, mind, and spirit as the sinless victim of our sin, in order that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Crucifixion was a bloody, gory, anguishing mess. In the midst of his deep physical and spiritual agony, Jesus too felt that God was against him. From the cross, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
In times of calamity, we have hope: Christ himself is with us in our misery, and his suffering sanctifies our pain. Because he was abandoned, we will never be. Because of Jesus, our Father in heaven wraps us in his embrace. Before it was finished on that dark Friday, before Jesus breathed his last, he committed his spirit into the hands of his loving Father in fervent faith (Luke 23:46).
This post is adapted from Christ and Calamity: Grace and Gratitude in the Darkest Valley by Harold L. Senkbeil (Lexham Press, 2020).