One of the major differentiating characteristics of God in the OT is His speech. As such, tremendous importance is placed upon His silence because this gives His people the opportunity to respond. One important response is lament which functions as God's established silence to listen to the heartache of His people. Let's evaluate the way in which God desires our response to our crises.
In our study, we will use Psalm 139, a lament psalm, to discover the way God seeks to hear our heartaches by recognizing the typical lament structure:
- Petition - a cry to God, referring to God by a name provided in Scripture (Great Comforter, Sovereign Lord, etc.).
- Plea - one's particular request for God to act.
- Complaint - the lamenter's difficulty which identifies his/her motives andthe problem.
- Expression of Trust - an expression of trust that God as identified in Petition will respond.
David begins his lament in v.1-18 by praising God's discernment through recognizing:
- God's intimate knowledge of himself (v.1-6),
- God's omnipresence from which he cannot escape (v.7-12),
- God's knowledge of David's own creation that he doesn’t have the ability to see or remember (v.13-18).
Following typical lament form, this lament begins in v.1-18 with David's petition to the all-seeing God. Yet this is not the only part of lament found within v.1-18. David's expression of trust is demonstrated in v.5-6, 17-18 which present David's faith that God's discernment continues within his life.
David's plea is found within v.23-24 as he asks God to search, know, see, and lead him. Thus far, three of four components have been apparent but the specifics of the complaint require greater consideration.
To identify David's problem, we must appreciate v.19-22 in the context of v.1-18 so let's summarize v.1-18 in three general sections: 1. God, You are discerning (v.1-6). 2. None can escape Your presence (v.7-12). 3. God, You are the creator with authority over lives (v.13-18). Now let's turn to v.19-22.
If you'll allow me, I'll construct a simplified summary of David's conflict: "God, I know who You are. You know my heart and thus know the hearts of the wicked. Just as I cannot escape You, neither can the wicked. You have the authority as creator over my life and thus over the lives of the wicked. Yet the wicked are still here and they surround me even though they hate You (v.19-20). Surely, You do not count me among them, for I despise their hatred of You. Should I judge them as they hate You because I love You? (v.21-22)."
To summarize: the conflict David experiences is what to think/how to feel in the tension between God's character which hates evil and God's sovereign extension of grace which allows the wicked to remain. This lament psalm rightfully calls God to act and punish the wicked because they despise Him, and yet David's petition and plea demonstrates his desire to not only hate the wicked as God does, but also demonstrate God's grace toward them. In short, it is a prayer: "God I don't know how can I hate evil as You do, and represent Your grace to evildoers. Search me and lead me to follow You in this."
As a result, this lament demonstrates David's suffering as he questions the Godliness of his hatred of evil-doers and tries to authentically reflect God's character toward them. In so doing, this lament is about the suffering of waiting for God's action and the internal suffering experienced in the waiting. Let us seek lament according to God's instructions as we await Christ's return.
Speaking God, it is awe-inspiring to appreciate lament as our opportunity to voice suffering. Thank you for the systematized process of lament which functions as Christian crisis language. May we appreciate lament's role in the Psalter as corporate not merely personal worship. Let us recognize that it is in and through lament that we must move from pain to praise for you have established this as such. We bless your name in this Christ Jesus. Amen.