Complaining Well 101

Following are some of my notes from the first session of an adult Bible class series I began last night entitled Complaining Well 101: A Study of the Psalms of Lament.

We’ve all been there. Probably many times. Something comes up. Something big, perhaps even suddenly. And our faith is rocked. Questions take hold of the ground where certainty once stood. Uneasiness replaces assurance and doubt stands in the wings. Perhaps it was a foreboding diagnosis given to you by a doctor. Maybe it was the loss of something, some place or some that was very dear to your heart. It could have been any of a number of things that caused it, but whatever the cause you certainly know where you are now. You are in the land of “complaint.” Oh yes, we’ve all visited that land time and again.

Now the book we know as Psalms is the largest, most personal and interactive book in your Bible. So who would have imagined that this is the book that addresses, more than any other, the subject of “complaining?” Indeed, you could go so far as to say that “complaining well” is the dominant subject taken up in the Psalms. Let me explain.

There are four basic types of Psalms: (1) wisdom, (2) royal, (3) praise and (4) complaint. Psalm 1 is the supreme example of a wisdom psalm, a psalm designed to share distilled discernment of things good and evil. Here are the wisdom Psalms:

1,32,37,49,73,78,112,119,127,128 & 133.

Psalm 2, a psalm frequently quoted and alluded to in your New Testament, is the best example of a royal Psalm – a psalm that depicts the relationship between God, Israel and her king. The royal Psalms are:

2,18,20,21,45,72,89,101,110,132 & 144.

There are sixty-one psalms of praise and they are just that, psalms that praise God for something that is good or that brings hope and joy. The twenty-third Psalm and Psalm 107 are two fine examples of two different kinds of praise psalms (trust and thanksgiving, respectively). Here are the praise Psalms:

8, 15, 19, 23, 24, 29, 30, 33, 34, 41, 46, 47, 48, 50, 65, 66, 67, 68, 75, 76, 81, 82, 84, 87, 91, 92, 93, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103, 104, 105, 107, 111, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 121, 122, 124, 125, 129, 131, 134, 135, 136, 138, 139, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149 & 150

But the most numerous of all the types of Psalms (sixty-seven) are the psalms of complaint or lament. These are psalms where the author has some “beef’ with God and he’s airing it out with the Maker in prayer. His faith has encountered a serious pothole in the road, typically a question (“How long?”, “Why?,” etc.) brought on by a crisis, and now he’s bringing that question to God in prayer (psalm) and wrestling with it and the associated grief.

The psalms of complaint/lament are not psalms of weak faith, rather, they come from a heart of faith “complaining” for greater faith to meet greater challenges. Because they engage God with a serious question based on some perceived tension between reality and faith, they are “complaints,” but they are complaints handled well because they are formulated in prayer. Because they are psalms filled with unvarnished grief, they are “laments,” but are examples of “good grief,” grief dealt with in a constructive way. These are the psalms of complaint:

3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 79, 80, 83, 85, 86, 88, 90, 94, 102, 106, 108, 109, 120, 123, 126, 130, 137, 140, 141, 142 & 143.

Take one of these, Psalm 13, as a brief, solid example of good, godly complaining. It has everything that most of the complain Psalms have in them, namely: (a) a prayer to God (“God, what’s going on here?!” – 13:1), (b) a complaint (the crisis is described – 13:2), (c) a plea for help (typically with reasons why God should help – 13:3-4) and (d) a conclusion (typically with words of trust and/or promise – 13:5-6).

And that’s where we’ll pick up next time as we seek to sharpen our complaining skills.

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