Learning the Language of Lament (Part Four)

In his book, Battling Unbelief, Barnabas Piper explains the difference between believing doubt and unbelieving doubt. Of unbelieving doubt he says:

When unbelieving doubt poses a question, it is not interested in the answer for any reason other than to disprove it. Unbelieving doubt is on the attack. It is much more interested in the devastating effect of the question itself to erode the asker’s belief and hope in what is being questioned. The asker is not asking to learn; she is asking in order to devastate. She does not want to progress to an answer. She wants to show that there is no answer. Unbelieving doubt is not working toward anything but merely against belief.

Believing doubt, on the other hand, is a doubt which seeks the truth. There is a similar difference between the language of lament and the language of grumbling and complaining. The grumbler consistently questions God’s character. The Israelite grumblers in the Sinai desert repeatedly questioned whether or not God was actually for them. Even after all of the displays of God’s power, protection, and care for them they still harbored a belief that God was brought them out of Egypt to slay them in the wilderness.

For the grumbler the character of God is still something that might be up for debate. They were as the ones Spurgeon had in mind when he said, “To be for ever holding the truth of God, as though it might yet turn out to be a lie, were to lose all the comfort of it.”

Contrast this with Habakkuk. He bemoans the prevalence of evil in his nation. He cries out for God to come in justice. But he is shocked by God’s response. The LORD is going to raise up the wicked Chaldeans to bring judgment upon the people of God. This unsettles Habakkuk. What bothers him so much is that this does not seem consistent with God’s character.

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he? (Habakkuk 1:13)

He isn’t wondering whether or not God is good. That isn’t on the table. He is wondering instead how the goodness of God fits with the present situation. His response, then, is to air his complaint and his questions (his lament) and then to wait for God’s answer. He knows that God will do what is right, even though nothing makes sense at present.

Habakkuk has doubts but doubts which are married to a rock solid faith in the character of God. But you see grumbling doesn’t do that. For the grumbler God’s character is a matter still up for debate. Is God really good? That’s not a question we get to ask. We can ask God how his character is connected with a present circumstance. We can say, “God you are good. You always do what is good. This doesn’t make sense. Yet I trust in you”. That’s much different than, “God are you really good? I’m not sure anymore. This situation makes me wonder.”

If God was really good…(everything after this point is going to be grumbling or complaining).

God is good so how…(everything after this point is more likely a lament).

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  1. Thank you for sharing your insights on this. I’ve often wondered the difference between lamenting and grumbling. You did a great job explaining!

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