Suffering and the Psalms

This month at CSAHM, we’ve been looking at the topic of suffering. For those who have experienced any amount of suffering, you know the agony, the depth of emotion, the longing for relief. As Christians, we cling to God’s promises in Scripture, trusting that He will sustain us through our suffering. Many of us have favorite verses and passages we read during those times. One of my favorite books for comfort during seasons of suffering is the book of Psalms.

In the Psalms, the writers express all the range of emotions that we feel. From thanksgiving and praise to grief and sorrow, from joy and adulation to fear and anger, every emotion we experience is poured out to God in the pages of the Psalms. Calvin aptly described the Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.”

When we can’t find words to express what’s going on in the depth of our being, we can often find it written in the Psalms.

When it comes to suffering, the writers of the Psalms expressed their deep emotions in vivid and descriptive ways. These Psalms reflect the pain they felt as they cried out to God for salvation and relief. We call these laments and it is in these Psalms where we can find the form and structure for expressing our own sorrow and pain to God.

“My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.” Psalm 38:10

In the Psalms of lament, we find that we are not alone. These overwhelming feelings have been experienced by others before us. Many of the Psalms were used by the Jews in their corporate worship, including the laments. The laments show us that God wants to hear from us. God desires that we come to Him with all our feelings, no matter how painful and intense. In fact, there are more psalms of lament than any other kind in the book of Psalms.

“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:2

All but two of these laments follow this structure: an expression of the author’s feelings, followed by asking for something the author needs, and ending with an affirmation of trust in God. The laments ask the difficult questions of life such as, “How long?” “Why?” and “When will you answer me?” They also seek specific answers from God including asking for relief from suffering, for healing, for salvation and for rescue. Lastly, they end with an expression of trust in God. They give God praise and thanksgiving for all He has done in the past and all that He will do in the future.

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:5-6

Psalms 44 and 88 are the only two that do not follow this form. They do not end in praise and thanksgiving. Perhaps this is because there are times when our emotions are so overwhelming, we need the Holy Spirit to intercede and express to God for us what is on our heart. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

When suffering lingers long, we can cry out to God.

Using the structure of the laments, we can put our feelings into words. Writing them as a prayer to God can be helpful. But even when words fail us, which sometimes they do, we can trust that He knows what is on our hearts. In faith, we are expectant that He hears us. In hope, we wait for His response. And in love, we trust that His joy will come in the morning.

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