You are allowed to hate God.
If you don’t believe me I encourage you to read the “Psalms of Lament.”
Biblical scholars use that term for those psalms prayed by those living in immense pain. Our English word lament comes from the Latin word for weeping. Psalms 6, 13, 22, 35, 42, 43, 88, 102, 109, and 137 are examples of this type of psalm.
You’ll know you’ve come across one when you feel like you’ve turned the corner in a hallway and bumped into someone kicking, punching, and screaming at a locked door; the psalms of lament are that intense.
For quite some time, when I was troubled or angry with God, I never told him about it—I didn’t think I was allowed. This resulted in an inconsistency between what was in my heart and what came out of my mouth. The psalms of lament gave me the courage to be real.
If the psalms of lament teach us anything, it is this: Christians can love God and feel immense hatred toward him at the same time. God doesn’t want tamed down, sanitized, forcibly dishonest prayers. He wants us to talk to him from our hearts, and sometimes that involves screaming and using words we wouldn’t repeat in public.
Sometimes anything less than this is dishonest.
As you read through the psalms of lament, you will notice that the people who wrote these prayers tended to focus on three basic themes:
- Accusations Against God
Their accusations are, at times, brutal. In Psalm 44:24, God is asked,
Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?
When I first read that, as a new Christian, I couldn’t believe someone could be that brash with God and live to write it. Yet, Psalm 44:23 is even worse:
Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
The author essentially tells God to wipe the sleep from his eyes and quit being lazy! How could these psalm writers talk this way?
I think the reason they were so bold is because they were willing to be honest. They wrote what they felt. If the psalms are the gymnasium of the soul, then I think the psalms of lament are the personal trainers—pushing us to shed our inhibitions and false humility and encouraging us to express what we genuinely feel in our hearts toward God.
- Hatred Toward Enemies
This is what shocked me the most about these psalms when I first read them. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How, then, do we reconcile this command with what we see in the psalms of lament? Look at what a few of the psalmists prayed:
Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 3:7).
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant (Psalm 143:12).
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalm 137:8, 9).
These are a far cry from Jesus’ words! I struggled with this for the longest time, trying to reconcile the two differing approaches, and then something occurred to me.
Maybe the reason the psalms of lament portray people praying for the destruction of their enemies is because we can’t love our enemies until God gives us the ability to love them.
And maybe God can’t give us the ability to love our enemies until we’ve expressed to him, in specific detail, the full brunt of our rage and hatred for our enemies.
Maybe it’s not until we’ve pulled every last ounce of hatred out of our hearts and flung it onto the lap of God that we can authentically love our enemies.
- Vows Of Praise
Interspersed among the kicking, screaming, and pleading is something biblical scholars call “a vow of praise.” We see a perfect example of this in Psalm 43, which begins with a desperate petition:
Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men (v. 1).
But then it ends like this:
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (v. 5).
The contrast is so stark, you wonder if the same person is writing the first and the last verses. How can someone go from such desperate circumstances to a position of confidence in God’s goodness? A vow.
In just about every psalm of lament, you’ll find a statement that expresses, “No matter how dark my circumstances get, no matter how much rage I feel toward God or those around me, no matter how much everything I think and feel tells me to give up on God, I will not. I will not give up on God.”Have you ever made a vow like that?
Sister Basilea Schlink, the founder of a Protestant order of nuns in Germany, counsels Christians in the midst of immense pain to make a modern day version of a vow of praise:
When you are in suffering say, “Yes, Father” and strength will flow into your heart.
This is a vow of praise. By making such a vow, we’re saying that no matter how alone, abandoned, and betrayed we feel, we will not turn back. By making a vow of praise, we’re not forgetting what has happened to us or letting God off the hook. A vow of praise is a declaration in defiance of despair. It is a proclamation to ourselves and those around us.
One of the only ways the saints of old were able to live through unspeakable valleys of desperation was to make vows of praise to their heavenly Father. I want to encourage you to do the same.
Don’t know where to begin? How about:
- Yes, Father, I still believe in your goodness, despite what I see with my eyes.
- Yes, Father, I still believe you have a plan for my life, despite what I feel in my heart.
- Yes, Father, I still believe my best days are ahead of me, despite what my enemies and friends and family and loved ones say to me.
- Even if you ask me to live in mystery the rest of my life, I will wake up every day and say yes, Father, I still believe in you.
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