With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I plead mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit faints within me you know my way! -Psalm 142:1–3a
How many times have you been mad at God? Probably more than you’d like to admit. I remember a time when a family member said some very hurtful things to me, and I was very upset. I felt the comments were extremely unfair and disingenuous. My mother gave me good counsel: “Bruce,” she said, “hurt people hurt people.” It is sadly true.
Sometimes in our close relationships, we have to be the dumpster people throw their trash at. Sometimes those closest to us will say the meanest things and treat us poorly because we are their safe people. Because love creates trust, loved ones become opportunities for hurt people to express themselves honestly because they know we won’t leave or abandon them. So often we have to take the brunt of our lover’s frustrations. Wisdom is needed here because relationships that do this with a manipulative goal are abusive. But often, because hurt people know you love them, they will say and do mean things to you. Just ask any parent.
When we are hurt, we cry out to God. But sometimes when the hurt gets really intense, our lament turns to complaint. Not only is this normal, but almost every lament in scripture contains a complaint. Now it seems reasonable to me that if God included all these laments in his holy word, that was because he wanted us to pray them when we find ourselves in similar places. And if that is true, then essentially God is inviting us to be honest with him in prayer.
In this psalm, we see that affirmation. The psalmist pours out his complaint to God, telling the Lord his troubles and struggles. He is not afraid to be honest with God about what he is feeling. In fact, his spirit is so exhausted that he finds his only hope in the knowledge that God will set things right.
Sometimes we need to pray honest prayers. We must always pray with respect and reverence, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be honest: “Lord you have deeply wounded me. I am upset with you. Why won’t you help me?” There is more truth and relational trust in that prayer than in the many prayers that ask God to “bless” and “give me this.” Those honest prayers show that you trust God and love him, that he is your safe person, to whom you can continually come.
God himself demonstrated this love on the cross. When Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world, he also took upon himself the wrath of God against our sin. As he bears that wrath, he is forsaken both by God and humanity. He is the rejected One. Humanity has issued its complaint and finds him guilty; they nail him to a cross and reject him. God also rejects him on the cross-pouring judgment out upon him in the form of divine guilty verdict. The cross is the complaint of God against humanity meeting the complaint of man against God, the Man of Sorrows rejected by all. We hear his graphic loneliness: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” (Matthew 27:46). This cry, by the way, is not Jesus’s own, but was first the psalmist’s (Psalm 22:2). Jesus’s words on the cross parrot human complaints. He speaks our words, takes our place, cries our desperation.
Because Jesus has taken our cause and our place, we can pray honestly. He himself complained, and he himself can endure it. The real challenge is not to let our complaints turn into ingratitude, in which case they can function to alienate us from God’s love by puffing us up with entitlement. But on the whole, pray honestly. God will never abandon or forsake you. He is with you always—even when you are mad at him. Let us live in this promise.
This is an excerpt from the Sinner/Saint Devotional. You can order the book by clicking the button below.
Bruce Hillman is Lead Pastor at Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church (www.hillsidelbc.org) in Succasunna New Jersey. He Holds a BA in History and Political Science from Quinnipiac University, (Hamden, CT), an MDiv. from the Lutheran Brethren Seminary (Fergus Falls, MN) and an STM in Patristics from Drew University (Madison, NJ); his research involves Augustinian studies and Early Christianity. He is former pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Henning MN. He is co-founder of Fifth Act Church Planting, having served on their board (www.fifthactchurchplanting.com) Bruce enjoys cooking, reading, all things British, exploring the world of wine, and conversations with good friends.