How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? (Lament)
How long will You hide Your face from me? (Abandonment)
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? (Agony)
How long will my enemy be exalted over me? (Shame)
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; (Waiting)
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, (Mortality)
And my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," (Death)
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. (Wickedness)
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; (Faith)
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. (Deliverance)
I will sing to the LORD, (Celebration)
Because He has dealt bountifully with me. (Hope)
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Psalm 13 Commentary
by C. Wess Daniels
Lament, as Walter Brueggemann says, is about
“Calling attention to the reality of human loss.
It is a given that needs to be processed theologically.”
Lament is prayers and emotions that express deep loss, deep disconnect from how things ought to be and the reality of things are. Lament is protest, it can be expressed in anger, or desperation as we will see. Lament is like a deep and emotional groan that becomes prayer to God.
In order to understand lament better, let’s look at a contrasting poem in Psalm 13.
Remember that the book of Psalms is the prayer book of the Bible. Quakers aren’t particularly great at using written prayers but these Psalms “praises” have been being used as prayers for thousands of years. They are collected here as prayers that we can use for ourselves.
I think this is especially helpful when we don’t know how to pray, or what kind of words to say to God. We can turn to the Psalms and begin to steep in these “praises” which, once you start reading them, aren’t all praises.
Henri Nouwen has said that these Psalms of lament are,
“For those who cannot articulate their own pain.”
In other words: here is a tool for deeper spirituality right here. Learn, pray, read, meditate on the Psalms. Take them and pray them verbatim or put them into your own words.
Let’s Read Psalm 13, our first Psalm of Lament, again.
Q: What are some of the things you notice right off the bat?
Q: Do you see any patterns or developments as the poem progresses?
People call Psalm 13 a Psalm of disorientation or a Psalm of darkness.
Those who understand Psalms of disorientation better than me suggest that there is a basic framework to these we can discern. (This same structure is taken from Brueggemann’s “Message of the Psalms” p.58–60).
A. Questions (v. 1–2)
(1-2) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
There are 4–5 rhetorical questions here. God is put on trial. This is where we see the blame or the address made directly to God. The Psalmist here is not interested in having anyone explain what is going on or give any excuses. The Psalmist is only interested in questioning God for what is going on.
There are two major problems the Psalmist has with God:
- Absence of God
- My enemies prevail
For the Psalmist, there is something amiss in the relationship and the injustice, the brokenness drives his request into what Brueggemann calls “Bold Faith.” The accusatory language of this prayer may feel weird or unnatural but within the Hebrew tradition this is what the practice of lament looks like. Nothing is off limits. No prayer is inappropriate to God. To bring all your pain, your complaints, your nice prayers and the ugly ones are all a part of having a “bold faith.”
It is bold because it refuses to live in a pretend reality. It faces squarely into the darkness and disorientation of life. And it declares that this darkness, especially our darkness, must be put into conversation with God. Nothing should be held back from God. Everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life” (The Message of the Psalms, 52).
B. Beyond Coping (v. 3–4)
(3-4) Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
The Psalmist is beyond coping. He is at his wit’s end. There are no more explanations, not more resources, no more excuses that can be given. But he refuses to give up.
He too, like Abigail, is about to die.
I sympathize with the prayer’s author because he stands in that in between life and death; where there is a teetering on just making it and completely losing himself. I feel as though I have no place left to stand.
“Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.”
This truly is disorientation.
In Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book “Lament for a Son” he describes this in-between well:
"But the pain of the no more outweighs the gratitude of the once was."
He knows the in-between and describes it well when he receives a call about the death of his son:
“The call came at 3:30 on that Sunday afternoon, a bright sunny day. We had just sent a younger brother off to the plane to be with him for the summer.
”Is this Eric’s father?“
Mr. Wolterstorff, I must give you some bad news.”
“Eric has been climbing in the mountains and has had an accident.”
“Eric has had a serious accident.”
“Mr. Wolterstorff, I must tell you , Eric is dead. Mr. Wolderstorff, are you there? You must come at once. Mr. Wolterstorff, Eric is dead.”
“For three seconds I felt the peace of resignation: arms extended, limp son in hand, peacefully offering him to someone – Somone. Then the pain – cold burning pain.”
Our lament is like telephone call, the juncture between two great distances. We know it is true lament when we are beyond coping and we know that we are on the brink of life or death.
And then the Psalmist waits. We don’t know for how long. But we know that he waits in the darkness. He becomes oriented with disorientation and stays there.
D. New Orientation (v 5)
(5-6) But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
And after so prolonged period of time he finds resolution in the lovingkindness of God. This is not some trite “everything works out to the good” because we know there are plenty of stories that never get told and plenty of endings that never end in a complete sentence or a period.
Instead, for the one who is transformed through lament, light comes to their eyes and they come to understand that “Nothing Shall Separate us from the Love of God.”
…Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Romans 8:37–39 NRSV)
Brought to Speech
The important thing about Lament is that our suffering, our darkness, and disorientation is “brought to speech” in relationship with God. There is nothing you experience, no pain too deep, no sense of loss so tragic that you ought not to just take it to God but to make it God’s business to transform the situation.
All of our lives must be brought into dialogue with the lovingkindness of God if we are to be transformed. Even if the circumstances are irreversible, that does not mean we cannot find a new orientation by practicing this bold kind of faith.
The Psalmist knows that one option really is death, literal, spiritual or emotional death. These are always live options for us too. And to remain silent is to allow that death to creep in. It is to wall God off and and forego the change that is possible.
“Everything is awesome” is the theme song not just of the Lego movie but of all who live comfortably in America. To practice lament is to challenge this. It is to refuse to pretend and instead face reality squarely. To voice our disorientation. To address God fully. To pour out the depths of our hearts and to await transformation because we trust that God’s lovingkindness is the final reference for all of life.
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Matthew Henry Commentary - Psalm 13
This psalm is the deserted soul's case and cure. Whether it was penned upon any particular occasion does not appear, but in general,
I. David sadly complains that God had long withdrawn from him and delayed to relieve him (v. 1, 2).
II. He earnestly prays to God to consider his case and comfort him (v. 3, 4).
III. He assures himself of an answer of peace, and therefore concludes the psalm with joy and triumph, because he concludes his deliverance to be as good as wrought (v. 5, 6).
To the chief musician. A psalm of David.
David, in affliction, is here pouring out his soul before God; his address is short, but the method is very observable, and of use for direction and encouragement.
His troubles extort complaints (v. 1, 2); and the afflicted have liberty to pour out their complaint before the Lord, Ps. 102 title. It is some ease to a troubled spirit to give vent to its griefs, especially to give vent to them at the throne of grace, where we are sure to find one who is afflicted in the afflictions of his people and is troubled with the feeling of their infirmities; thither we have boldness of access by faith, and there we have parreµsia—freedom of speech.Observe here,