Lament or Complaint

February 5, 2013 1 By Mirm

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion (Ps. 137:1, ESV).

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1, ESV)

Last Sunday Mike Erre, our pastor, preached on the Worship of lament or lament as worship. Whatever. For me it begged the question of the difference between lament and complaint. One may be worship but the other might cost 40 extra years wandering in the wilderness! (Complaining only makes the journey longer!) If lamenting is truly worship, how do I keep from turning that into whining and complaining? As I have traveled this journey through grief, I have wrestled with many of the issues that Mike talked about such as being fake outwardly, feeling that I do not have the right to question God, and being guilt ridden that I can’t “get over it” more quickly. However, in giving myself permission to lament the death of my beloved, how do I keep from becoming a complainer, which does not please God at all? So I have been looking into it this week. I don’t have it all solved but here is what I am thinking as a result of my own limited study.
As Mike said that in the face of such catastrophe, faith does not demand that we put on a plastic smile when our hearts are breaking. God does not desire us to be false with Him. I get that. Grief is a spiritual discipline, too, and at times the only right and appropriate response. Godly grief expresses itself in the laments of Scripture. Job’s speeches and Lamentations fall in this category, and about one third of the Book of Psalms is made up of laments.

One of my Bibles described Biblical lament this way:

In the lament psalms, we hear the strong, emotional words of sufferers. These are words written by real people in very difficult situations. Sometimes the forcefulness of the psalmists’ complaints against God is shocking. But these godly sufferers know that God will not be angry with their honesty, for even when they scream at God, it is a scream of faith.

These are the prayers for the sleepless nights and weary days, for the seasons when we feel like Bilbo Baggins, “too little butter spread over too much bread,” for the days which seem more Romans 7 than Romans 8, for hospital rooms and funeral homes. The sheer multitude of laments in Scripture bears witness that hardship is a commonplace in life in a fallen world, yet God desires to fellowship with us in the midst of suffering as we cry out to Him. Laments give us words when we have no words.

So the rub comes for me because I don’t want to be an Eeyore, or Puddleglum. It is such a fine line! I think the difference between a lament and a complaint is summed up as we look at the audience; grumbling speaks about God to other people while lament addresses God directly in prayer. It also has a different content; complaint disputes God’s previously revealed character while lament seeks to reconcile God’s character with circumstances that seem to contradict it. I think that if a lament is worship then it is a continued posture of contrition and wounded faith while complaining is from a heart of unbelief and rebellion.

What do you think?