I recently received a series of tragic updates that tipped my normally trust-filled, hope-saturated prayers into anguished, aporetic cries of lament.
A very close friend’s preteen daughter had suddenly and inexplicably fallen into the darkness of mental illness, thrusting her bewildered parents into the disorienting world of the mental health system.
Another dear friend’s son and daughter-in-law just lost their third baby girl to a genetic disorder.
A local pastor’s tiny daughter contracted E. coli at a county fair, leaving her with debilitating health challenges.
All of it compounded our grief over the loss of our adopted daughter, who has chosen to begin life with her infant daughter homeless in Philadelphia, rather than coming home to our family.
For the first time in my life, I prayed, through gritted teeth, “Thy will be done.” How, Lord, I mewled, is this good for the kingdom?
Why, Father, would you place a beautiful child of a couple who has served you faithfully their whole lives, in a psychiatric facility? How is taking yet another child from a couple whose faith is tenuous going to bring them to trust in you? What good can come from inflicting a 3-year-old with pain and permanent damage, even as her father is shepherding your people?
Why, Lord, did you bring our daughter to us ten years ago only to have her leave like this?
I did not sense bitterness in my lament, only earnest questioning from a tattered heart. Still, I wondered if I had veered into dangerous territory. Was I like Job’s wife? Was I cursing God (Job 2:9)?
Where Are You, God?
When trouble and grief befall God’s children, we want to know why. And we are in excellent company. “Why have you forsaken me?” asks David, and later, quoting him, Jesus (Psalm 22:1; Mark 15:34). Habakkuk wonders, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3).
And then there’s Job, after wishing he would have died at birth, who complains,
“Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.” (Job 3:23–26)
God allows, even encourages, faith-filled laments and queries from his people. Our status as children (John 1:12) and heirs (Romans 8:17) enables us to come to him with confidence and wide-eyed inquiry. We must take care, however, not to cross the line from faith-filled lament into doubting God’s goodness.
Praising God in Pain
Satan would like nothing more than for us to question God’s character and benevolence. He uses our broken hearts to goad us into blaming God for our troubles. Praise God that, in his providence, we are supplied with a sure defense against the temptation to deny God’s good will.
When we plead with God for relief from pain and don’t get what we petition for, we wonder where God has gone. But sometimes we don’t see him in our supplications because he is not there. God does not inhabit our petitions. He is “enthroned on the praises” of his people (Psalm 22:3).
Are you in pain? Praise him. Questioning his will? Praise him. Weary from the dark stains of this world? Praise him.
The Sound of Worship in Suffering
Join with the psalmist, who proclaimed,
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:1–4)
Consider Psalm 22, where in verses 16–18 the psalmist sums up his misery with,
Dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet — I can count all my bones — they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
This suffering anticipates the unspeakable agony inflicted on God’s Chosen. But four verses later, the psalmist remembers God’s goodness and exults,
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For 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. (Psalm 22:22–24)
Our affliction is not abhorred by God! Our pain is acknowledged as he attends to the voices of our prayers (Psalm 66:19). We find comfort in the loving arms of a good and gracious Father, who hears our cries of lament. What one truth do we discover over and over again in the Psalms — composed of far more laments than mere hymns of praise? “The Lord is good.”
Faith Shines Brighter in Darkness
Pain — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual — is woven into the fabric of our fallen world. The afflictions of illness, the loss of a child, or the infidelity of a spouse are surely not light to our fragile bodies or momentary to our myopic minds (2 Corinthians 4:17). But true, deep, and authentic faith in Jesus Christ shines glorious light, through even the darkest of circumstances, on a glory and comfort that will never, ever end.
We need not experience life on earth without hope, even as we are “surprised at the fiery trial when it comes” (1 Peter 4:12), because with Christ there is a sure future without pain. Therefore, we praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son (Ephesians 1:5).
God can be trusted with our pain, our questions, and our uncertainty. He will never hide his face from a child who runs to him in praise.