Calvary Psalms: Covenantal Lament
Lamentation is the expression of deep sadness about the way things are. It is not simply “emoting” or “venting”—that can simply be raging into the void. In fact, it actually takes faith to lament truly. A person has to believe in the saving God, the God of covenant to truly lament, for lament involves speech with Him.
The greater our knowledge of the saving God, the deeper our experience of sadness in the world as it is. Jesus was often grieved as he saw situations of trouble, death, sin and faithlessness—and he lamented it. Paul encountered such situations too—and he lamented it. This sadness is the flipside of hope and faith in God. It is because of our knowledge of the saving love of God, and His covenantal intention for the final renewing of all things, and the destruction of death, sin and evil at the end, that we can look at this world as it is, and feel deep sadness about the way things are. No faith, hope and love—no lamentation. Full faith, hope and love—true lamentation.
Psalm 88 is the most complete expression of lamentation in the Psalter. Of all the lamentations, it is the most grief-filled. All the way through the sufferer speaks directly to the LORD about his deep trouble. “The LORD” is the covenant name of God, that name by which Israel could be sure of the LORD’s mercy and grace, His slowness to anger, abundance in steadfast love and faithfulness, and full and free forgiveness. The psalm records the sufferer holding the LORD responsible for all that is happening. He asks the LORD questions—deep, searching questions—about what is happening, why this is happening when the LORD is the covenant God. The psalm has no “happy ending.” There is no resolution of the grief into praise. It is like a compressed version of the book of Job, but starker, without the enclosing framework which spells out the covenant purposes of God in what happens to Job. This is the person who believes in the covenant God of grace in the middle of suffering when he or she cannot see how it connects to God’s covenant purposes.
It is so good that this psalm is there in Israel’s songbook. Suffering can be lonely, hard, bewildering. Jesus himself entered into the deepest suffering of all—the lonely, hard, bewildering suffering of bearing the sins of the world and the judgment of God on sin. Jesus is the true pray-er of this prayer. This psalm encourages us to speak to the Father out of our bewilderment and loneliness, to not think foolishly that the Father is not in control, to express our pain to Him and to ask Him our searching questions, and to wait and persist in lamentation when we do not get an immediate answer from Him.