Previous Article in the Series: What is Lament?
Knowing God is the foundation of Biblical lament. But can we know God? In one sense, no. God is infinitely more vast than any person. We cannot fully know God. However, this is not how we use the word “know” anyway. I know my wife. Does that mean I know everything about her? Surely, I might be able to guess her thoughts with a degree of accuracy, but will I always be correct?
Everyone has a concept of a higher power. And most—if not all—practice this concept of deity at certain hotspots throughout their lives. Even the person most apathetic about spirituality petitions “god” to rescue him from his darkest valley. The atheist is the only one who is not guaranteed to cry out to a deity in his struggles and only because he has previously convinced himself (or has been convinced) that God absolutely does not exist. Whether the arguments he believes are logical or faulty is up for discussion and has been covered in thousands of other articles or books. My point is that everyone has a natural instinct to cry out to a higher deity.
And when we cry out to this higher deity, whether we have been raised in a spiritual environment or not, we most commonly assume this “god” has only good intentions towards us. What does “good” even mean? Good by our natural standards means we have food on the table, money in the bank, six weeks of vacation a year, a maid to clean our house, and the perfect family to welcome us home from work every afternoon.
We expect this “god” to fulfill our wants and our individual definitions of “good.” When something goes wrong, we cry out to this self-made deity. When he answers in the way we wish, he is only god because he did what we asked. He is a dog on a leash. When he doesn’t answer in the way we wish, we become bitter. Because he didn’t respond in the way we wanted, he must not exist, or perhaps he is not good, at least not to us and at least not how we define the word. Yet, when the next trial comes years later, we cry anew to this “god” we have already counted as false.
This is idolatry. Any god made in my image is not God.
But this idolatry does uncover an inherent mechanism of the human heart. We have an instinct that instructs us of God’s existence, sovereignty, and goodness. This instinct is most excited by pain or danger. Intuitively, we call on this deity as a last resort for salvation and safety, even if we act like he does not exist during the moments when our lives are supposedly “good.”
In those moments, while our knowledge of God is flawed, we hope that He is all-powerful and all-benevolent, even if our definitions are skewed. In a way, we expect without reasoning that God is both omnipotent and all-loving. And though in many ways we are wrong, in these both, we are right.
A basic knowledge of God is inherent in all people everywhere. It only lacks in those who have actively denied His truth:
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” –Romans 1:19–25*
Biblical lament is built upon knowledge of God. More specifically, it is formed on the words of God expressed in the Bible. That’s what separates it from the cry of the “non-believing believer.” From creation, we can deduce that God is powerful. From our conscience, we can suppose that God is good. But only from the Bible can we learn the true meaning of power and goodness. And those who know and trust God’s Word believe that God is good and powerful even when He doesn’t seem to be or when they don’t feel like He is.
God becomes our Rock. In the middle of a sea full of those double-minded men who deny and affirm God based on their convenience, Christians have an anchor to tie themselves to regardless of the circumstances. While others cry to a god they don’t know, God’s Word assures believers of His faithfulness and strength. When others revel in their pleasures and prosperity, believers—though thankful for God’s gifts—maintain that the greatest joy is the enjoyment of Christ Himself. While the lost may float and flinch like unhitched buoys given up to the angry whims of the ocean, believers know that Christ has moored them to the “love that will not let me go.” The storm may rage, our soul may dip beneath the ocean’s waves, but we are still anchored deep in the harbor of God’s love and wisdom.
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” –Hebrews 6:19–20
We cry, complain, question, and doubt, but we do not abandon our God, for we know Him, and we know He does not abandon us.
Our response is not to deny our doubt, nor is it to acquiesce to it. Instead, the lamenting believer brings his doubt to God because he believes God is faithful and will uphold His promises in His time. We cry out to God because we trust Him. We trust Him because we have known Him. As we know Him more, we trust Him more. When we doubt Him, we hold on through the tears rather than abandoning Him because we know Him, we want Him, and we love Him. We love Him because of His great love for us. Knowing God—His character, words, and works—is the foundation of Biblical lament.
*All Biblical references are in ESV unless otherwise stated.