The Psalms reflect the wonder of life, the glory of creation, the incomparable gifts of God, praise for his love and constant care. But they also reflect the loneliness of the human spirit which no earthly medicine can heal; the solitude of mental anguish; the hours of dark despair; the waves of doubts and fears, of questions and tears upon which all men and women are tossed. In the introduction to his Commentary on the Psalms, John Calvin wrote in 1563, “I may truly call this book an anatomy of all parts of the soul, for no one can feel a movement of the spirit which is not reflected in this mirror. All the sorrows, troubles, fears, doubt, hopes, pains, perplexities, stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed, have been depicted here.”
Psalms that most closely fit this description are called Psalms of Lament. These psalms mirror the painful emotions of the soul struggling with circumstances beyond its control; trying to reconcile such situations with what it believes about God.
Lament Psalms are of two kinds: National (Ps. 44)- Why? How Long? Why does God neglect his people? How long will they be objects of derision among the nations? Then there are the individual or personal lament psalms. There is a typical pattern to these:
1. An intro- usually a cry for help
2. A lament- a description of the complaint
3. A remembrance of what is known to be true about God
4. A petition- asking God for something
5. A confession of trust
Such a pattern should be a model for our own communication with God in the midst of discouragement or despair. These psalms should teach us that we can bring such things before God, indeed that we must come before God at times like this. They will help us to work out our anger and despair within the context of our faith rather than outside of it.
An example of such lament is found in Psalms 42 and 43, which were (most likely) one psalm with three strophes, each with twelve line concluding with an identical refrain: 42:5, 11; 43:5- “Why are you cast down O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
The psalmist feels that he is separated from God (from the Temple in Jerusalem). He feels this so intensely that he describes it in physical terms- like a thirsty deer trying to find water in a dry and arid land. The psalmist is both spiritually and emotionally thirsty for the presence of the living God. v. 3, His grief finds expression in his tears, in fact, his condition is such that he has been doing more weeping than eating (tears have been my food day and night). Have you ever thirsted for God? I think you have, but just haven’t known it. I believe that a desire to be personally related to God is a basic human drive; the reason why we have been created.
The problem is that this hunger for God is masked behind other human desires. I can prove this by showing that the fulfillment of every human desire does not lead to permanent satisfaction. In fact, our human cravings may actually cause us to hate the very thing we thought we loved. Let’s do a little experiment: let’s say you have a craving for mint chocolate chip ice cream. “I’d do anything for some,” you say. Ok, here are 5 gallons and one spoon, and you must eat it all. Let’s say for arguments sake that you do- you eat every bit of the ice cream, gag. How do you think you would be feeling about your desire? Satisfied? You probably wouldn’t use that word to describe your feeling. I bet you would say with great emotion that you never wanted to see or smell another spoonful of ice cream ever again!
There is a story in 2 Samuel 13 about a man named Amnon, who was in “love” with his half-sister Tamar. He told one of his friends “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister” (v.4). He loved her so much that he couldn’t eat. So he went to bed pretending to be sick and asked that Tamar be sent to feed him. She came into his bedroom and he forced sex upon her. “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (v.15). That was love?
The analogy of the ice cream and the tragic story about Tamar illustrate the same point: human desire cannot be ultimately satisfied by the thing it craves because we were not made for ice cream, or sex, or drugs, or money and fame, but for God. C.S. Lewis said it so well in his Problem of Pain, “If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, I must conclude that I was made for another world.” Behind every human desire there is a thirst for God.
God said to Israel, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” (Isa 55:1). Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:27)