And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
The best way to learn this language of lament is to enter into the prayers made available to us. These are intimate windows into the human soul, the creation condition, and the heart of God. Let’s consider Psalm 13, a lament of King David:
David is at the end of his rope. He is tired of trying, almost to the point of despair. In the midst of his physical and emotional fatigue, he cries out to the Lord: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (13:1-2).
How often have we wanted to ask this very question: “How long! How long must I carry around this burden, how long will this conflict continue, how long will I be single, how long will I go unrecognized, how long will the oppressed be silenced?” We have asked these questions with wet cheeks and clenched fists, but have we directed our cry to God?
Though he wonders if God has removed his hand from his life, David’s words are decidedly addressed to God: “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (13:3). He is not just venting. He wants answers. He wants to see a light at the end of the tunnel, the light of God’s presence, the light of justice. Anything else feels like death.
If God seems distant and if David has been running in his own strength for so long, what hope does he have for crossing the chasm that seems to separate them? What hope does he have of being delivered from his circumstances and sorrow and into the light of God’s presence? What reason does he have to believe that God will bridge the divide and answer his cry for help? He leans not on his present experience of God, but rather the eternal character of God: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (13:6).
The Hebrew word for “steadfast love” is hesed, a rich, complex word that means so much more than what we often mean when we say “love.”
We are very loose with the word “love”. I love my wife, and I love coconut in my chili. You know there is a difference, of course, but you have to infer the meaning based on the context. Spousal love is much different than love of food. Even when I do not have warm, fuzzy feelings for my wife – hypothetically speaking – I am still committed to her in a way that I am not committed to anyone or anything else. And my loyal love flows from that commitment.
If you take away the context, then it’s easy to reduce love to something that is basically sentimental, which is how many people think of God’s love. Most people would say that God is a loving God, but their notion of God’s love lacks substance because it has been removed from the context of redemptive history, wherein his mighty deeds toward his people flow from his covenantal commitment to them. The hesed of God is a combination of strength in action, fierce commitment, and tender emotional care. God is a mighty warrior, a faithful husband, and a wise Father. This is love that David remembers and trusts in his time of need. This is how he can begin with “How long?” and end with “my heart shall rejoice.”
The goal of deliverance is always worship. May the love of God fill us up and turn our complaints and rants into a prayer of faith and a song of praise.
What are your “how long?” questions?
How have you experienced God’s love in the past? How do you need to grow in your understanding of God’s love in order to trust him now?
Remembering Jesus, we make bold even in our lament to offer words of trust and praise: “I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”