In the wake of TGC US’s “Lament for Racial Justice,” some readers have asked about whether it is appropriate to voice our complaints to God. We asked our Job scholar, Andy Prideaux for his thoughts.
Now and not yet – Good groaning
The Christian life is a paradox of joy and suffering. To the Ephesians, Paul writes:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
And, to the church in Rome:
… but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
Christians declare joy-filled praises to God who is our loving heavenly Father. In Christ he has saved us from his wrath, forgiven us all our sins, and given us of his Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the seal of his ownership, the sign of our sonship; and that we belong to his people (1Cor 12:12-13). He is the guarantee of our future glory and eternal inheritance (Eph 1:13-14). By him we cry out with confidence: ‘Abba, Father!’ (Rom 8:15-17)
The same Spirit who causes us to praise is also at work in our groaning. His presence in our lives also reveals to us what we do not yet enjoy
And yet, at the same time, Christians also cry out to God with words of sorrow and lament. For the same Spirit who causes us to praise is also at work in our groaning. His presence in our lives also reveals to us what we do not yet enjoy: the full experience of our hope in Christ; our full inheritance and our spiritual bodies. The bodies, minds, hearts and tongues that we turn to God are crumbling, failing, broken and stammering, so we groan along with this broken world that awaits redemption (Rom 8:18-25; 2Cor 4:7-12). And, in times of sadness and struggle, we are called to comfort one another with the comfort we receive in the certain hope of the gospel (2Cor 1:3-7).
The Bible teaches us that lament is a legitimate and God honouring expression of genuine faith in our Saviour. In his commentary on the book of Job Frank Andersen put it well:
A calm and heavenly frame for ‘a closer walk with God’ is not the uniform standard for biblical religion. Hannah prayed with the incoherence of a drunken woman (1Samuel 1:13). ‘Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…and he was heard’ (Hebrews 5:7). So Job makes his way to God with prayers that are sobs. Narrow and inhuman is the religion that bans weeping from the vocabulary of prayer.’ (my emphasis).
In the years following its publication, Frank and his wife Lois lost their young teenage son Martin suddenly and unexpectedly. They knew that their son trusted in Jesus and that he shared their hope in the resurrection. They grieved as those who have hope; but they really grieved (1Thess 4:13). They carried in their lives the ‘flesh wounds’ and scars of that sorrow. It was not a hopeless sorrow, but it was a real sorrow. Real tears were shed, and many laments were offered up to God. And God collected all those tears in a bottle; noting in his book every one of their laments:
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)
He held them, as he holds all his dear children, in his arms, just as Jesus held those helpless babies that their mothers had brought to him to bless (Matthew 19:13-15 cf. 11:28-30)
Sometimes Job’s prayers were more like yells, but they were prayers nonetheless … in the end the Lord God vindicated him
All Job’s laments were also prayers. Sometimes those prayers were more like yells, but they were prayers nonetheless. The three friends condemned Job’s speech, ‘you can’t say such things to God! These are not the words of someone who fears the Lord.’ However in the end the Lord God vindicated him, and upheld his words of complaint, and condemned the friends.
…The Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite; ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’ (Job 42:7, v.8 cf. James 5:10-11)
Jesus Shares our Lament
God has given us the language of lament not only in books such as Job and Lamentations, but also in the Psalms: more than a third of the Bible’s prayer book comprise psalms of lament.
And God has taken this lament to himself, in the person of his Son, who cried out with sorrowful and angry tears at the tomb of his beloved friend Lazarus (John 11:33-37). Jesus cried out from the cross with the complaint of Psalm 22: ‘My God my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34). In Jesus, we have someone who comes along side us in our frustration, our temptations and our weaknesses. Jesus is our Saviour who promises to help us in our time of need. He became one of us, and he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. Neither is he ashamed of or embarrassed by our sometimes angry, sometimes hurt, or fearful, feeble and frail prayers and cries of distress (Hebrews 2:10-18). In his earthly life Jesus, our Great High priest, expressed his own costly love and obedience for the Father ‘with loud cries and tears,’ and he was heard (Heb 5:7). On the cross he bore all our sin, sickness, sorrow and shame. He absorbed the full measure of God’s wrath against our sin in himself (Is 53:1-5).
Man of Sorrows, what a name, Hallelujah, what a Saviour!’
And even now by the Spirit, he groans with us and for us when we have no more prayers left to pray (Rom 8:26 c.f. 1Cor 2:15-16). He groaned with Paul when he pleaded with God three times that the Lord remove the thorn in his flesh. Even as God proves to us the all sufficiency of his grace towards us, he weeps with us (2Corinthians 12:7-10). In John’s vision, God hears the groaning of the martyrs under the altar as they cry out ‘how long O lord?’; as they mourn the evil opposition to God and his people; as they wait for their vindication and for God’s just purposes in the world to be upheld (Revelation 9:6-11).
‘A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break…’
The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote that:
Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious, good work in them. (cf. Romans 8:28).
Christ refuses none for weakness of parts, that none should be discouraged, but accepts none for greatness, that none should be lifted up with that which is of so little reckoning with God.
Our Heavenly Father does not condemn us in our frailty, but holds us in his loving arms. One day he will wipe every tear from our eyes, but until that day, lament will be part of our expression of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Heavenly Father does not condemn us in our frailty, but holds us in his loving arms.
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…‘ (Isaiah 42:1-3 cf. Matthew 12:15-21)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ (Matthew 5:4)
None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other hope in heav’n or earth or sea,
None other hiding-place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee.
My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.
Lord, Thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love’s fire Thou art, however cold I be;
Nor heaven have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home but Thee.
Christina Georgina Rossetti