Biblical Lament vs. Sinful Complaint

Well, hi friends. If you joined us this last Sunday or if you had a chance to watch the message, you remember that we talked about prayers of Lament, which is a very frequent thing that we see in Scripture. We see it in the book of Psalms where over one third of the 150 Psalms are of Lament. And in the Book of Job, we see so much lament in response to Job’s sufferings and the pain that he goes through. So just by way of review and if you didn’t have a chance to watch it, what lament is, we defined it as a form of prayer.

Lament is a prayer. It’s a way to worship God. It’s a form of prayer that expresses deep grief and emotion to God with the intent of drawing close to Him in our pain. We talked about how it’s often a personal expression to God, but it’s also very often a communal expression to God that we see where we’re just being honest with God and coming to Him with all of our pain and our sorrow. We talked about how one commentator defined lament as a prayer of pain that is designed to lead us to trust God.

We’re just being honest with Him. What lament does is it gives us a language that many of us need to know. How do I process my emotion? How do I work through these questions that I have when I or something going on in the world that it just doesn’t seem to make sense? And so we talked about that.

And I then also talked about how in Laments in Scripture, you’ll often see these patterns that seem to recur. They all look a little bit different, but there are certain themes that come through again and again. One of those themes that you’ll see in a lot of Biblical immense is what we talked about is complaint. And I know complaint for many of us is a very negative word because we don’t like to be around complainers. Isn’t that sinful?

Aren’t all complaints bad? But we looked at how not all complaints in the Bible are bad because they’re part of Biblical laments that are in the Psalms and places that the Psalms were set to music and people would sometimes sing their laments and their complaints to God. What complaint is, is you’re naming specifically a situation or circumstance that you’re troubled by and you’re bringing that to God. And so then the question comes, and that’s today’s question is so does that mean that lament is always synonymous with complaint? Is there ever a time where lament and complaint don’t line up?

What is it that makes a lament Biblical and a complaint sinful? Well, in our common usage, usually the words lament and complaint seem to be interchangeable. But in the Bible they are viewed as different concepts. They’re distinguished as different concepts and they occur in different contexts. For instance, complaint, sinful, complaint.

We see that in the book of Exodus in about chapters 16 and 17. And for the remainder of the book of Exodus, you may remember that the children of Israel had been rescued miraculously by God from being enslaved to Egypt. And so as Israel makes their way, god parted the Red Sea. He did all these incredible things. And once they’re on the other side of the Red Sea, the people, it says, are in the wilderness and they are wandering and they begin to grumble against God, they begin to complain.

What they do is they’re pointing their finger at God because he’s not providing the bread they need or the meat that they need or the water that they need. And so they’re blaming God and painting Him as the villain in all of this, saying he’s trying to kill us. They’re assuming the worst about God, and so their complaints become sinful and they’re putting God to the test. You contrast that with what we see in, say, the Book of Psalms with biblical lament, or in the Book of Job, where we see biblical lament and we see complaint there. And I think that what we can do is we can distinguish between biblical lament and sinful complaint in saying this, that a sinful complaint is an accusation against God that seeks to malign God’s character.

It questions God’s character. It puts him on trial, so to speak. Whereas a biblical lament is not an accusation against God, it’s an appeal to God based on God’s character, his righteousness, his justice, what God has done in the past. And it’s not designed to malign his character, but it’s based on trust in his character. So that’s the two types of concepts that we see there in a way that we can think of them differently when complaint is under the category of biblical lament, complaint is designed to move us along, hopefully towards trust.

We talked about how sometimes you’ll see the word yet or because, or however in Psalms of Lament or in the Book of Job with lament, where the complaint is laid out before God as an appeal to him. And yet the writer then says, yet or however will I trust you, God? So that is the difference for us. Bottom line is for you and me, friends, is because many of us are unfamiliar with what it looks like to lament. In a world where so much suffering and pain happens, it’s good for us to pursue what it looks like to lament and to offer our prayers, our honest prayers to God in times of pain for ourselves, on behalf of others, on behalf of our nation, on behalf of our world and all of those who are suffering in it.

So let’s learn the language of lament and implement that into our lives.