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Advent Lament
by Ted VanderEnde

December 4, Friday – Psalms 16, 17, 22; Amos 5:1–17; Jude 1–16; Matt. 22:1–14
(ESV Daily Office Readings Online)

The so-called Lament Psalms are peppered with astonishing questions. At the center of Psalm 77 the psalmist raises six troubling questions (vss. 7-9):

  • Will the Lord reject us forever?
  • and will he never be pleased with us again?
  • Has his loyal love ceased forever?
  • Is his promise ended throughout generations?
  • Has God forgotten to have compassion?
  • Or has he closed off his mercies in anger?

Faith is sorely tested, particularly to believe that God still cares in terrible times, when death and destruction are rampant. He wonders if God ceases to be kind, loving and faithful, if it is still possible to recite the creed and joyfully believe it? He wonders where the evidence is of his promise to protect Gods people, and why the innocent are not defended? He questions why God has withdrawn Himself from his trials (Ps. 10:1), or why God allows evil and the evildoer to overpower him (Ps. 13:1-3), or why God seemingly forgot the oppressed and persecuted (Ps. 44:24).

Perhaps the most familiar question he raises is the one Christ recited from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” These questions are profound and a bit troubling, and yet so true to life, particularly for those truly suffering and in dire need and unending pain. They are profound ‘advent questions.’ These questions imply that God allows times of darkness before He gives light, times of waiting before He arrives, a time of advent before He comes.

Advent here is a deep and troubling period of waiting for the psalmist in which he struggles, which some have called ‘a holy doubt.’ But note that his questioning is part of his prayer, his complaint is addressed to God as he bears his soul. In his case the doubt drives him to his knees, as Job eventually knelt and submitted everything to God. Furthermore, in all of the lament psalms (except one) he always expresses hope and confidence that God will return to him, will awake from His sleep so to speak, in answer to his prayer (Ps. 44:23). Clearly, it is difficult to wait on the Lord in times of trial, for those haunted for their faith, for individuals going through severe hardships and painful losses. Or when we ourselves wonder about all the evil in this world which brings death to innocent lives, misery to the poor, abuse to women and children.

Advent is therefore a time to identify with those who are going through dark and difficult times, those on the run as refugees from the carnage of war, a time to pray for those who are broken in their marriage, in the raising of troubled children. With them we are allowed to ‘complain’ to God, yet with the understanding we speak to Him not out of a desire for retaliation, but out of legitimate anger marked with intense grief. Yet with hope and confidence which we may not experience as yet. Thus psalm 77 ends and speaks of confidence that God will overcome and save. “Your ways, God, are holy . . . You are the God who performs miracles . . . with Your mighty arm you redeem Your people.” (Psalm 77:13-15). It may be still night, but the day is at hand (Rom. 13:12) even when waiting for the morning can be a time of sacred doubt.

Image by Jeffrey (used by permission via Creative Commons).