The Laments: Where the Mind and the Heart Meet
We often categorize ourselves as being either a thinker or a feeler. A thinker is more likely to make decisions and act based on knowledge and a feeler based on emotion. When it comes to matters of faith, a thinker would emphasize what we know about God’s word and a feeler what we feel or experience in our faith. It seems like an either/or choice; it’s either the mind or the heart.
Yet there’s a place in Scripture where the mind and heart meet, where thoughts and feelings come together: the Psalms of Lament. And in the laments we see that while both the mind and heart are important, there are times when one needs to lead the other.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
In Psalm 42, the psalmist is far from the temple, the place of God’s presence. He cries out in lament because his enemies have oppressed him and kept him from worship in Jerusalem. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (42:2-3).
The psalmist is in despair. He voices his emotions to God, telling him how he feels, “My soul is cast down within me” (vs. 6). He asks of God the question we all ask when painful circumstances cut into our life, “Why?” “I say to my God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (vs.9).
But he doesn’t end there. He doesn’t simply cry out to God in sorrow and leave it at that. It’s not just an exercise in catharsis. Throughout his lament, the psalmist voices the truth about who God is. When he cries out in turmoil, he refers to God as his “rock” (verse 9). He talks about God’s steadfast love, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (vs. 8).
He also confronts his emotions by talking to himself. Twice the psalmist questions his emotional state and reminds himself of the truth, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (vs. 5, 11). This is where the mind and heart meet. This is where the psalmist applies what he knows to be true about God to his heart. God is his savior. God is his hope. God is his God.
Where the Mind and the Heart Meet
It’s easy when we read the laments in Scripture to zero in on the psalmist’s expression of emotion. We can relate to it. The prose is vivid and sharp. It describes our own pain as though we were looking at our heart in a mirror. Perhaps that’s why we are drawn to the Psalms when our life is a whirlwind of chaos, heartache, and heart-stopping fear.
But the laments show us much more. They show us not only do we need to come to God with our fears and sorrows, but as we do so we need to remind ourselves of who God is and what he has done. In Psalm 42, what the psalmist knew about God intersected with his heart and reshaped his emotions to conform to the truth. The truth he applied to his heart moved him to a place of trust, “for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (vs. 11). This is the lesson of the laments for all of us.
From my book, A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament:
“Often we allow our emotions to lead us and take precedence over our minds. The laments show us that both the mind and heart can meet together. They show us that the truth of God’s Word we have stored in our minds can lead the heart to rejoice in that truth… This is where our theology and what we know about God from His Word comes in… What we learn about God in Scripture, about who He is, what He has done, and who we are in light of all that is the foundation to our faith. It is an anchor that holds us when the storms of life blow into our lives. It is a light that guides us and directs us in the darkness of our circumstances. When our emotions are taking us on a roller coaster ride, our theology is the steady horizon that keeps us in place.” (p. 135)
Both our thoughts and our emotions are important, for we are both thinking and feeling beings. But our emotions don’t always speak the truth; sometimes they exaggerate or mislead us. Yet we don’t need to ignore them altogether. Instead, as the laments show us, we need to bring those emotions to our Father in Heaven and as we do so, we must remember the truth of who he is: our rock, our Savior, and our hope.
Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College and received her Master’s in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She serves on the national women’s ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. Christina is a conference and retreat speaker and writes for a number of Christian ministries including TGC and Ligonier. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ChristinaFoxAuthor.