It does not feel very Christian to say that something is not fair or that we’re angry about it. God, after all, works for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28). He knows the plans He has for us: plans to prosper and not to harm (Jer 29:11). How dare we then complain?
And so, as Christians, we tend not to get angry when things go wrong. We are told to accept them as being part of God’s will (and He will make everything turn out good in the end). Instead, we are to be joyful and praise God.
Yes, but praise is much more complicated than that. Even as we believe God is all-powerful and all loving, we do not have to pretend that we are happy with or thankful when things go wrong. Perhaps we could pretend when it came to little things, especially as those of us in grad school and the church have had generally happy content lives. But when the big things come – the death of family or friends or a little baby, the dream that seems never to come true, the thesis project that looks like it will never end, the depression that overwhelms our soul – it seems impossible to smile and be thankful. How do we praise God then?
The lament psalms offer a way to turn to God in the midst of these painful and difficult times. Psalm 13 is one example:
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. ”
Those are honest words, declaring that things are not fair. And the Psalmist does not need to pretend to be happy about them. In fact, he seems to dwell on the pain, detailing the difficulties to an all-knowing God who must have been aware of them. At the same time, the Psalm ends with this:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.“
When the Psalmist says these words, is the pain gone? Probably not. Is the one speaking here happy? Most likely not. But yet he chooses to trust, and his words of praise at the end of the Psalm are spoken only after a cry for help has arisen. The anger and pain are part of the journey to trust and praise, making the praise all the more true.