The Greatest Danger

The psalms of lament demonstrate that the greatest danger to our relationship with God is not our questions; it’s our silence. Of course, it’s certainly possible to be silent for the right reasons—perhaps a healthy respect for God or the inability to put our feelings into words. But often our silence is rooted in something else altogether: simple unbelief. “Oftentimes, we never ask God difficult questions because we are never disappointed or confused by God—and we are never disappointed because we never really expected God to do anything in the first place. …If we are to recover the voice of lament, we must dare to expect something from God—something that matters and something that will hurt us if God does not come through.” (G. Pemberton, Hurting with God, 172)

And so, if we are to emulate the model we find in the psalms, we must first address God directly and then name our complaints specifically. These are the first two components of a lament.

The third is the request. In Psalm 13, the request is in verse 3: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes…” Complaint is not the end of the matter. The psalmists name their requests. They tell God exactly what they would like Him to change.

Notice more carefully the requests in this short verse. “Consider and answer” is the psalmist’s way of asking for God’s attention and response.  “Light up my eyes” is his request for strength, vitality, and physical wellbeing. In other words, he’s saying: “God, you are my only hope here. Help me out, or I’m going to die!”

The requests are obviously linked directly to the complaint. When personal sin is the problem, the requests are focused on forgiveness and cleansing. When God seems to be the problem, the requests are often shockingly bold: “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (Ps 44:23). When enemies are the problem, the psalmist prays: “Deliver me” or sometimes even “Destroy them!”

Requests like that last example—those so-called “imprecatory prayers” in the psalms—have long troubled readers of the Bible, particularly the really graphic, gory ones: “Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire, into miry pits, no more to rise!” (Ps 140:10; cf. 58:6-10, 109:6-15, 137:9). Should we ever pray like this? Stay tuned…