Why Don’t We Lament?
The New Testament authors quote the Psalms more than any other Old Testament book. It’s quoted almost seventy times with even more allusions. The Psalms are on the tip of Jesus’ tongue as well. The sermon on the mount is peppered with Psalms’ quotations and allusions (see Matt 5:2 cf Ps 78:2; 5:5 cf 37:11; 5:6 cf. 42:2; 5:8 cf. 24:4; 5:42 cf. 37:21). Hebrews is also brim full of Psalms in connection with Jesus Christ. Most memorably, many of the Psalms are used as Messianic prophetic fulfillment like Psalms 2 and 22.
I’ve pointed out previously the Psalms are full of laments which the Church currently neglects. My recent review of The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul only solidified that opinion. Specifically, we have lost the art speaking frankly to God, lamenting to Him. I think we find it hard to accept that kind of emotional rawness is acceptable. I want to make a connection with the gospel and laments which will hopefully encourage those of you who have never prayed one of the Psalms of lament to your Father to do so. Whatever your difficulty is. Whatever you are going through. Whatever your pain. Praying the Psalms of lament to God will demonstrate faith in His covenant promises.
I want to return to one of the most popular quotations of the Psalms in the New Testament--one of the sayings of Jesus on the cross.
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son[i] of God!” Matthew 27:45-54
Verse forty six is the relevant quotation, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The phrase Jesus quotes starts this Psalm but take a minute and meditate on the rest of Psalms 22.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help. . . .
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet[b]—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! Psalms 22:1-11, 16-21
A Gospel Dirge
So in the midst of his suffering and death, Jesus is praying, crying out this Psalm of lament to the Father. The Psalm is honest and gritty. “Why have you forsaken me?,” “You do not answer me,” he laments the mocking he received for trusting God, and he says, “Be not far from me.”
These words of lament are on the tongue of the Son of God, “Light of Light, very God of very God.” He is praying these words to His Father. The One who He has enjoyed infinite and full fellowship and love with. That should give us resoluteness when we lament to God. He laments actual separation from the Father so we will never have to experience that kind of aloneness--no matter what we feel. We can pray boldly than when we lament know God hears us.
This Psalm of lament strikes at the essentials of the gospel--the death of Jesus Christ. The cross is the heart of the gospel. Part of His steadfastness in suffering came from the inspired words found in Psalms 22. The gospel, in some sense, was completed because of the grace poured out from this lament.
If you remember when Jesus begins his ministry, His cousin John washes Him in the Jordan River. God speaks words of affirmation over Him and the Spirit descends like a dove. Jesus enters the wilderness and rebuts the Devils attacks with Scripture. As we noted with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus regularly quotes Scripture. He is meditating on the Law of the Lord. We can safely assume He’s regularly singing the Psalms. We know when the disciples and Jesus left the last supper they sang a Psalm (Matt 26:30).
The point: Jesus lives His life always pursing the filling of the Spirit. He’s constantly soaking Himself in Scripture; He’s always finding a solitude place to pray; and He’s always seeking fellowship with those who know the grace of God. We can safely assume the Psalms were also a vital part of his daily spiritual nourishment. Some argue that the Lord’s Prayer is outline of the Psalms. The petitions are summaries of the most common themes found within the Psalter. The Psalms again directly and indirectly strike at the vital of the gospel story. The life of Jesus, his perfect obedience on our behalf, was lived by the power of the Spirit and with the Psalms stained into the deepest fibers.
Psalms for Your Daily Liturgy
The Psalms more than most books are structured for use in rehearsal. They are songs you can sing. They are prayers you can pray. They are grit and grace for living in this fallen world. But most of all they are full of hope for the advent of the Messiah. For the time when He will come and reign on earth, son of David, son of God. We need that tension in our life. We also need the daily reminder of the gospel that the Psalms provides. It’s littered with Messianic allusions, hope, and reality. It’s littered with gospel foreshadowing like Psalms 22.
So friend, don’t neglect the Psalms. Sing them. Pray them. Read them. Meditate on them. Search for Christ in them. Put them to the test. As the words of God, they will not fail you.