Out of Control
It’s challenging to accept that God is fully sovereign, and we are finite. It is difficult to wrap our minds around how little control we actually have over our lives; we often don’t want to admit it. We can’t make the sun rise or the rain clouds go away. We can’t make ourselves heal from a wound or keep ourselves young. We can’t choose who has cancer or who will die at an early age. We are radically out of control.
But, our loss of control is what reveals the good character of God. To accept our lack of control, to accept the circumstances we are dealt and have peace, requires that we trust the One who holds the world. If I have enough faith to believe that God is “working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28),” even if I don’t ever understand what is supposedly good, I can have peace that isn’t founded in my circumstances.
I’m learning as I experience loss and grief that I all too often rely on my circumstances to feel peace instead of relying on the unchanging character and sovereignty of God. The only peace that can sustain living in a fallen, broken world is the latter. But as I feel the pangs of grief in this world, I have questions. I long for my circumstances to not point to the fall but to point to heaven. With sorrow must come lament, a place of honesty with God. I must be able to actually cast all of my cares on Him when I am so utterly confused about the situations of my life. It’s beautiful that scripture gives us freedom to lament. The Psalms are full of laments, of people crying out to God “Why?” and “How long, oh Lord?.”
Start with God’s Character
Psalm 25 is a great example of praise and lament working together, written by King David. David begins with a list of God’s character traits as statements. He reminds himself of the true character of God, which is unrelated to his feelings or circumstances. David says, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust (v.1-2a).” He remembers that God is trustworthy; He is steadfast. In verse 6, he says “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been of old.” David reminds himself that God is merciful and loving. In verse 8, he says “Good and upright is the Lord,” again stating who his God is.
Trustworthy, loving, merciful, good, upright. That sounds like a God who is worthy of worship. That sounds like a God who doesn’t need to earn my love by giving me what I want.
Then, David reminds himself of his position to God. He is a sinner, an unworthy man who will fade like the grass. David asks God to “pardon [his] guilt for it is great (v.11).” God doesn’t owe us anything, yet “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” Jesus lived the perfect life to extend an offer of relationship to us; He loved us before we ever thought about loving Him. When I remember my position to God, my prayers change. My circumstances in this broken world may be difficult and sad, but even Jesus’s life was difficult and sad. Jesus warns us that “in this world, you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” God has given us the ultimate hope through Jesus - eternal life with a perfect God who loves us so much He paid the price for us. David praises God for that, even though he didn’t have the full story of scripture in his hand yet; he writes “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant (v.14). Praise God that He did make known his covenant to us! Praise God that Jesus came and is coming again!
Lament, and Be Honest
Even though David has reminded himself of the nature of God and the covenant promises of God, he still asks God to change his circumstances. He still brings his burdens to God with honesty. He says in verses 16 and 17:
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses
I don’t know to which situation David is referring, but he had a good number of life situations that I would consider distressing. He doesn’t act like he understands what God is doing, and he doesn’t even ask God to help him understand. He asks for relief. He asks for attention from God to his problems. When I experience suffering, I almost always feel like God gave me a blind eye for a moment, like he fell asleep and my world fell apart.
But that is why David started by reminding himself of the character of God. God is trustworthy. God is merciful and loving. God is good and upright. And because of who God is, He is worthy of our worship. Yet because he is loving, he cares for our sorrows. He will tenderly walk us through our suffering and whisper, “trust my plan; I am still in control.”
Although our suffering can lead us to ask questions about God, may we choose faithfulness and patience as we wait for Him to make Himself known to us. May we ask Him the hard questions in our laments and choose to believe Him for the character revealed in scripture. Our souls deeply yearn for the new heaven and new earth where there will be no more tears and we will stand in the presence of God forever; but for now, we experience suffering and grief and loss on this side of eternity. May verses 21 and 22 be true of the children of God while we wait for God’s justice, mercy, and love to be fully revealed - “May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.”