The Shadow Side of Faith

A friend passed away this week suddenly and unexpectedly. I would guess that all of us have experienced that at some point in our lives. Whenever it happens there’s usually a torrent of questions that flood our minds. Most are directed at God and some are fairly pointed. Not the kind of questions you ask in the presence of other people, especially Christians. We’re afraid of how they might react if they knew what we were really thinking. They might think less of our faith or doubt our commitment to God or worse of all, try to explain or defend His actions.

So we keep our questions and doubts to ourselves. We confine them to private prayers (if we dare pray them at all), and we work hard to never let them slip into the public arena. I don’t think it’s helped us much. And I don’t think it’s very Biblical. Read the Psalms sometime. The ones they don’t read during Sunday worship. The ask some gut-wrenchingly honest questions of God and they express deep emotions. The psalmists lay everything on the line. They don’t hide their doubts, fears, worries, cries, questions, etc.

Yesterday I stumbled across that idea in Philip Yancey’s book The Bible Jesus Read. He says that the majority of the Psalms take the form of a lament and only a minority deal with praise or thanksgiving. These two categories represent the two conditions in which we find ourselves: distress or well-being. In our modern practice of faith we speak to God more often of our well-being, but in the ancient practice of faith they spoke more to God more often of their distress. He continues…

King David specifically ordered that his people be taught to how to lament (2 Samuel 1:18). The lament in Psalms has little in common with whining or complaining. We whine about things we have little control over; we lament what we believe out to be changed. Like Job, the psalmists clung to a belief in God’s ultimate goodness, no matter how things appeared at the present, and cried out for justice. They lamented that God’s will was not being done on earth as it was in Heaven; the resulting poetry helped realign their eternal beliefs with their daily experience.

Dan Allender, a Christian counselor, asks, “To whom do you vocalize the most intense, irrational–meaning inchoate, inarticulate–anger? Would you do so with someone who could fire you or cast you out of a cherished position or relationship? Not likely. You don’t trust them–you don’t believe they would endure the depths of your disappointment, confusion…. The person who hears your lament and far more bears your lament against them, paradoxically, is someone you deeply, widely trust…. The language of lament is oddly the shadow side of faith.”

One thought on “The Shadow Side of Faith

  1. Leland Ryken (professor of English at Wheaton College) classified Psalms into Lament Psalms; Psalms of Praise; Nature Psalms; and Psalms of Worship (Songs of Zion). He stated the Laments comprise about 1/3 of the Psalter and are the most numerous type with Psalms of Praise being the second largest group. I’m glad God isn’t shocked about my feelings of injustice or anger — he created all these varying feelings anyways!! — Stephen

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