This year has been a challenge for us all. In addition to the normal hardships of life in a fallen world, we also have a pandemic, lost jobs, division across the country, and severe weather. People are hurting. We are hurting. As we wait to turn a corner on all the uncertainty, the future at times seems bleak. We are weary. Sad. Sometimes even fearful.
At least, I know I am.
I’ve written much about lament this year— about as much as I did the year my book on lament came out. And for good reason: Lament is the biblical response to all the turmoil we have gone through this year.
There’s a lament in Psalm 89 which seems fitting these days.
It doesn’t sound like a lament at first glance. In fact, its organization is flipped upside down from the typical lament. Rather than starting with the problem and ending with praise, the author, Ethan the Ezrahite, begins with a song of praise. He exalts who God is and what he has done. He recounts God’s covenant to maintain the line of David on the throne forever (vv. 3-4). He describes God in all his wonder and power (vv. 6-14). And he responds in praise (vv.15-18).
But then the psalmist turns again to the Davidic covenant, recounting God’s promise to his people to “establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens” and “I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness” (v.29 and 33). Why would the psalmist focus so much attention on this covenant?
It seems that there may have been an ungodly king on the throne and perhaps the nation was experiencing some kind of judgement from God, for God’s wrath was against the king. Their enemies were triumphing over them. To the psalmist, it felt like God had abandoned and rejected his people. The future seemed bleak. Thirty-eight verses in and finally Ethan began his lament: “But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust” (vv.38-39). To the psalmist, it seemed as though God had forgotten his covenant. The Davidic line seemed lost, “You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground” (v.44).
The psalmist then asked questions we all ask in the face of dark times, “How long?” “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” (v.46). He wanted to know: Where is the steadfast love of God? Where is God’s covenant love for his people? He wanted the Lord to remember his promises to his people.
After voicing all his cares and concerns, he then ended his lament as he began, with praise (v.52).
Laments never fail to speak to what is going on in my own heart. In these uncertain and difficult times, it is comforting to know that others have felt such sorrow too. Even more, that they have sung these words to the Lord and that he heard their cries. It’s possible God’s people sang this song as they made their way into exile. From the psalmist’s perspective, from everything he could see, it looked like God abandoned his people and his promises to them. Their nation was in upheaval. They felt God’s wrath upon them. I can only imagine the doubts and fears they felt. If God had truly rejected his people, what hope do they have?
On this side of the cross, when we read these words in Psalm 89, we know God did not forsake his covenant. He preserved the line of David and through that line was born the incarnate Son of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20). The risen and ascended Christ now sits on his throne for all eternity.
There are times in life when it seems as though God has forgotten us. We may feel abandoned. The fog of doubt lies heavy. We start to think the sun may never rise again. Yet Psalm 89 reminds us that things are not as they seem. What we feel isn’t necessarily what is true. This is timely for us in 2020. For those of us who wonder where God is in all the chaos of this year, for those who wonder if he has abandoned his people, for those who cry out with the psalmist, “how long?” this psalm is a reminder of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. What a testimony Ethan the Ezrahite left for us! The first thirty eight verses are a beautiful reminder of who God is and what he has done. We can focus our hearts on these truths. We can also read the remaining verses and lament alongside the psalmist. We can give voice to our own disappointments, doubts, and fears. We too can ask God the hard questions. We can ask him to intervene, deliver, and rescue. And also like the psalmist, we can respond in praise. We can exalt the name of God because we know the One Ethan did not get to see— the incarnate Son of David.
When the future seems bleak, encourage your heart with Psalm 89 and recount to yourself who God is and all that he has done.
Originally posted here.