When God is unfaithful: A Theology of Lament

Skepticism is not a loss of faith and doubt is not an enemy of faith. Rather, they provide opportunities to deepen our trust in God.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Pete Enns is a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books, including the recently released “The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires our Trust more than our ‘Correct’ Beliefs”.

In this well–written and often humorous book, Enns claims that faith is more about trusting God in the midst of difficulty and sorrow than it is about knowing the right doctrines or having correct beliefs. For Enns, skepticism is not a loss of faith and doubt is not an enemy of faith. Rather, they provide opportunities to deepen our trust in God.

Enns tells stories from his own life to provide examples of how trusting God can bring us through those difficult times. He talks compellingly about his own dark night of the soul; it was precisely in the darkness that he discerned an intimacy and closeness with God which he had not known before. This book models an acceptance of mystery and paradox which helps to deepen our faith so that we become more mature disciples and followers who truly trust God. I recommend the book highly.

I am also a follower of Pete Enns’ blog at www.peteenns.com.  A recent post struck a chord for me. He notes that about half of the Psalms in our Old Testament include some sort of lament which give God an earful about how terrible life can be sometimes. The Psalmist complains to God that “Life sucks! Life is not fair!” In some of the laments, the Psalmist even goes so far as to complain that God has broken his promise to be faithful.

Enns continues, “Like Psalm 44. Here we find Israel is in some national crisis. The people expected God to show up and help, but God didn’t. The psalmist mentions how they have always put their trust in God, but now God has ‘rejected us and abased us’; ‘you have made us like sheep for slaughter’; ‘you have sold your people for a trifle’; ‘you have made us a taunt…a byword…a laughingstock’

“Thanks a lot. All this has happened, even though ‘we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.’ So, God, here’s an idea: ‘Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord. Awake, do not cast us off forever.’

“Translation: ‘God, you’re asleep at the switch, it’s your fault, don’t even try to blame this on us.'”

Enns goes on to talk about another example of a powerful lament, Psalm 89. This psalm goes even further in accusing God. The Psalmist begins by reminding God of his promise to stick by his promise to David to maintain an unbroken legacy of kings in Israel, and that God would never violate that promise, because God does not lie. Right? Well, of course right! What kind of God would lie?

But then the psalmist accuses God of doing exactly that. The Israelites are now in exile in Babylon: there is no king; there is no throne; the land has been taken away from the people, and so the psalmist points out the obvious: “You have renounced your covenant…defiled his [David’s] crown…. Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?”

Then Enns asks, “OK, so what’s my point?

“Is God actually at the end of the day unfaithful? No, I don’t believe so.

“Did the Israelites sometimes experience God as unfaithful to them and accuse God of being unfaithful? You betcha. They took their grief and anger and stuck it in God’s face.”

It seems to me that we’ve largely lost this sense of being in that kind of honest and intimate relationship with God. We walk on eggshells when we approach God. We talk nice to God, because we’ve been taught that that’s how you talk to God.

Or we give up on God altogether. If we can’t be honest with God, then what’s the point of being in a relationship like that?

Enns continues, “Did God strike them down with plagues, famine, or thunderbolts for daring to oppose his sovereign wisdom and might? No.

“And that’s in the Bible.”

We can learn from this. Let me go back to Brueggemann again, who once commented that “Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town.”

Enns concludes, “Maybe we have lost the ‘art of lament,’ where complaining to God is part of the deal. Maybe, rather than playing church and make–believe, a vital dimension of the spiritual journey is giving God an earful now and then. Maybe God can handle it. Maybe God likes it, because it means we are being real and not fake. Maybe if you’re angry with God now and then, you’re normal. Maybe that’s part of being the people of God.”

I love this stuff, because it’s part of a real, raw, and vital relationship with God. People who are in love with each other argue with each other. They dare to be honest with each other. As they do so, the relationship grows and becomes stronger and more healthy.

The same thing applies to our relationship with God.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook