Although “lament” and “complaint” have some things in common, biblically they cannot be mistaken for each other. Time after time, we see God’s dissatisfaction with complaining and grumbling; most evident are the grumbling Israelites in Exodus. Lamenting, however, seems common and acceptable. How can we express ourselves openly and honestly to God without being offensive? Lament or Complaint? Let’s consider the difference.
Complaint reveals belief in a God who is unreliable. His Word clearly distinguishes complaint as a sin and stumbling block (Philippians 2:14). The grumbling Israelites did not have faith that God was good (Exodus 15:22-24; 16:1-3), and their grumbling led them into wandering 40 years in the wilderness. Complaint does not please God, it offends Him.
Far different from faithless grumble, words of lament are the words of one trusting in the God to whom he cries out. An example would be Psalm 22, which begins with cries of anguish but moves on to praises for a God who has worked in the past. The lament shows reliance on the Lord for his provision and protection. Psalm 22 is directed to the God who answers prayers. Lament does not offend God.
Author of Tyndale’s Commentary of the Psalms, Tremper Longman asks the question, “While it’s wonderful that God invites our laments, how often does he answer them?” His answer: “Not all the time—so what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to lament forever? ‘The general teaching of Scripture is that a more mature level of suffering is to move from lament to confidence, just like Psalm 46 does.”
In the words of Michael Card, “It’s easy to praise God when things in your life are going well, but what about the other times? What happens when mountaintop experiences cascade into seasons of struggling in the valley? God expects us to pour out our hearts to Him, whether in joy or pain. But many of us don’t feel right expressing our anger, frustration and sadness in prayer. Our personal worship experience is not complete unless we understand the lost language of lament.”
As Christians, we are a blessed people to have the stories of biblical characters to use as a guide for daily living. From examples of Job to David, we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that our Savior has not forsaken us – In the darkest of times, He is often seen the brightest. Yet, we need not pretend all is well when it comes to our personal prayer. Important to note: Complaint talks about God. Lament talks to God.
Have we lost the practice of lamenting in Christian worship? We can praise our God with laughter and tears in all seasons of life! His glory is seen no less. For further thought, read Psalm 23-31 and Psalm 46.