I remember hitting my forehead over and over on the glass door of the shower. My mentor and dear friend, Ray Dillard, had just died at age 49. He had trained me in seminary, encouraged me to go to graduate school, and eventually hired me to teach Old Testament alongside him. Besides the loss, his death meant that my already heavy workload would double, as I would need to teach his classes in addition to my own. This increased responsibility came at a bad time: my teenage sons were acting up at school and needed my attention. To say I felt sad and stressed was not even half of it.
That year, my friend Dan Allender and I were writing a book on psalms of lament. What a mistake, I thought. When we started our work, we both were in good places with few troubles in our lives. Apparently God thought that anyone writing on lament psalms should have something to lament. Sure enough, I thought as I continued to bang my head on the shower door. God was starting to come through in spades. I realized he was going to show me what lament really is.
I already understood that the lament psalms gave me permission to complain to God. God invites us to speak to him with utter honesty and boldness. This is different from grumbling against him, as the Israelites did when they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land (Num. 11).
The Israelites spoke about God behind his back—or so they thought. Conversely, the complaints of the psalmists are spoken directly to God. And whereas the wilderness generation had given up on God, the psalmists had not. Even though they often addressed God in anger, they spoke to him, asking for help and hoping that he would answer them in their distress.
I was not ready to turn my back on God. But the laments, ...1