O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
5 But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me. Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6
About half of the psalms in the Bible are in the form of a lament. This form has four characteristic features: direct address to God (such as, “O my Lord”); complaint (“why have you forsaken me,”); petition (“come quickly to my aid”) and a vow of praise in the future (“I will praise you in the great congregation.”)
There is a very profound truth in this form, as seen in Psalm 13. That truth is that complaint and faith are not mutually exclusive. Too often, we have been taught that if you have “real faith,” you will always “look on the bright side,” and will never allow circumstances to “get you down.” So, if when you face real difficulties, you become down and depressed, and feel as though God has turned his back on you, the obvious conclusion is that you have lost your faith in him. Too often the result of this kind of thinking is that we try to deny what we are really feeling and to pretend to something that is not so. That is not faith; it is only pretense!
What these 75 or more psalms do for us is to give us the permission to be real. To be subject to emotional highs and lows, and to be affected negatively by negative circumstances is simply part of the human condition. To be honest about them is not necessarily a sign of a lack of faith. It is simply to tell God what he already knows, believing that he is big enough to accept it!
But if the psalmists are conscious of the reality of what they are going through and their feelings about that, they are equally certain that God is going to respond to their cries and that the day will come when they will be able to tell everyone what a great God he truly is. Nor is there a hint of emotional blackmail here. There is no “if you answer my prayer, then I will give praise to you.” Praise is simply a certainty. Although it is not true in all cases, in many psalms this vow is stated with completed action verbs. We don’t have such a verb form in English, so we must put it in the future tense. But for the psalmist the praise is already given; it is a “done deal.”
This is faith: the confidence that in spite of the reality of feelings of abandonment and rejection by God, of inexplicable and undeserved pain, he who has proved himself faithful in the past is still at work and that praise for his wonderful grace is a foregone conclusion.