Grief with Good Theology
“God, I know you’re not mean, but it feels like it today.” My wife, Sarah, and I were sitting—devastated—in the car outside our doctor’s office. My wife’s blunt prayer was all she could muster.
Our prior appointment was to confirm a long-awaited pregnancy after the still-birth of our daughter and multiple miscarriages. However, instead of seeing the grainy flutter of a miniature beating heart, our doctor told us that we had a false-positive pregnancy—a blighted ovum. Despite climbing hormone numbers and the creation of a home for a baby, there was no embryo.
We were crushed. This grief felt cruel. God seemed like he was a million miles away. Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I believed in God’s sovereignty and goodness. We often anchored our hearts to the truth that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Our theology was solid. But this moment was hard—really, really hard.
Sitting in the car with the crushing waves of sorrow, my wife lamented. She voiced painful circumstances that didn’t appear to line up with God’s goodness. Sarah wasn’t cursing God for his perceived absence. She was complaining—talking honestly to God about her pain.
It’s Okay to Complain?
If you read the Psalms, you’ll quickly discover a lot of creative complaining. Over a third of the Psalms are laments—prayers in pain that lead to trust. These prayers of protest turn to God instead of being silent, tell God what is wrong instead of pretending, ask for his help instead of doubting his care, and lead to trust instead of hopeless despair.
Lament is the biblical language for people who feel like God is distant.
Some people are skeptical when they learn about the category of biblical complaint. Let me be clear, I’m not giving you permission to vent self-centered rage at God. Nor am I suggesting that you have a right to be angry with God.
But consider the fact that the following inspired words are not only written in the Bible, but they were set to music and sung by a congregation:
“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
Even Jesus poured out a complaint. While hanging on the cross he quoted Psalm 22—a lament: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Psalms of lament help us to see that when God feels far away, we should tell him. Instead of giving in to despair (“There’s no hope”) or denial (“Everything’s fine”), we can complain—the right way.
Complaining the Right Way
When God feel like he’s distant, we can cry out to him. The biblical language of lament allows us to be honest about our struggles while helping us trust him. If God feels far away in your suffering, here are a few steps for practicing biblical complaint:
A complaint must be offered with a humble heart. Proud, demanding questions because you believe God owes you something will never create true, life-giving lament. Before you start complaining, be sure you’ve checked arrogance at the door. Come with your pain, not your pride.
Pray the Bible
As you consider this prayer language, consider memorizing a portion of a lament Psalm. The verses will capture the essence of your struggle. You’ll find poignant language to pray. The lament psalms are in the Bible for a reason. Start complaining the right way by praying the Bible.
Biblical complaint only works if you are honest with God about your pain, fears, or frustrations. Remember, you have a Savior who understands your struggles (Heb. 4:15). What’s more, we have the Spirit of God who intercedes for us with “groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). The triune God is not surprised by your struggles. So, tell him.
Don’t Just Complain
Finally, complaint was never meant to be an end in itself. Lament does not give you an excuse to wallow in your questions or frustrations. It is a means to another end: trust. Bring your complaints to the Lord for the purpose of moving toward him—make the choice to trust.
When suffering arrives and it feels as if God has left, allow lament to turn you toward the Man of Sorrows. Talk to God about your struggles. Even if it’s messy or embarrassing, let biblical complaining help you to be honest about your pain while opening your heart to God’s help.
When raw feelings and painful emotions flood your life, lament guides us back to the safe harbor of trusting God’s goodness. The honest opening of our souls can become a pathway to trust, especially when God feels far away.