Psalm 13: A Lament
The book of Psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures, incorporated into the Christian Old Testament, contains 150 individual Psalms. Of the 150, one third of them can be categorized as Laments. A Lament Psalm is used in times of trouble or when the bottom has fallen out of life.
All Lament Psalms fall into the same literary pattern: complaint, request, trust and praise.
The complaint is typically three fold and can be seen easily here in Psalm 13; a complaint towards God "you have forgotten me and hid your face from me", a personal complaint "my soul and heart are in pain and constant sorrow", and a complaint about the people or context "my enemies laugh and exalt over me."
After the complaint/complaints have been made, the author turns to a request: "look at me and give my eyes light." The author is asking God to look at the current situation and provide a vision of hope beyond the current state of suffering.
Once the request is made, the author can then call to mind the one entity that is constant in the continuously changing world: God. Most importantly, the trust here is in God's steadfast love.
Finally, the author moved to the point of praise. Notice the praise is not immediate. The request has yet to be fulfilled. The praise will arrive at a future date, and when such a time arrives the author "will sing to the Lord," because once again the Lord has acted in abundance towards the individual and creation.
When we find ourselves in times of abundance it is good of us to "offer our thanks and praise," but there are other times when life seems to be so bad and so harsh we do not even know what to say or pray. Psalm 13, and the other Lament Psalms, offer words for us.
Finally, it is good to know we can come to God with our complaints, concerns and request. And in the same way it is good to be reminded that many others have gone before us and been in similar dire situations.
Prayers go out to those in similar situations to Psalm 13. May their time of praise come soon.
Psalm 13 (NRSV)
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Want a really approachable introduction to the Psalms? Check out: Psalms for Sojourners by James Limburg.