Have Christians lost touch with the language of lament in prayer?

Lamentations is a Biblical book often neglected by UK Christians.

I wonder why? 
Is it because some of us are just too comfortable that we run away from cries of anguish. Is it because we have forgotten the Biblical injunction to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep?

One third of the Psalms are songs of lament. Other books of the Bible include laments, for example Job. Jesus cried out in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross he quoted from Psalm 22 to express his sense of being abandoned by God. Lament runs all through the Bible, but Lamentations is its only book that is entirely in Lament form. Mostly we avoid it, given a choice. Yes, I have too. At best we might sometimes pluck out of its context Lamentations 2: 22 – 23:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
You don’t know the 5 poems that are Lamentations’ 5 chapters? Help is at hand. Chris Ruby did a 140 character summary of each. He tweeted these between 13 – 17 April 2012 as part of his marathon tweeting of every chapter in the Bible, 1 a day between 2010 and 2013 using the Twitter name @biblesummary. You can see those 5 Lamentations tweets here. And what’s the betting you will take a quick look at those tweets and not go on to read the whole book of Lamentations? Yes, it’s about ancient events, but I challenge you to read the whole book and see it in the light of current events.

Are we shocked by the way Biblical laments point the finger of blame towards God? Is that why we find books like Lamentations uncomfortable? Wess Daniels has a helpful reflection on Psalm 13, one of the Psalms of Lament. In it he writes:
“The important thing about Lament is that our suffering, our darkness, and disorientation is “brought to speech” in relationship with God. There is nothing you experience, no pain too deep, no sense of loss so tragic that you ought not to just take it to God but to make it God’s business to transform the situation.”
So even if we think the problem is God’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think the problem is an enemy’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think it’s our corporate or personal fault we should take that too to God and cry for restoration.

Have Christians in the west lost touch with the language of lament as a component of prayer?

Have we in our relative comfort concentrated our worship too much on the language of praise and thanksgiving? Is that because we are influenced by the language of success and the cultural pursuit of happiness? Therefore we equate unhappiness with failure or lack of faith?And in individual and corporate prayer, when we happen to feel OK, we avoid the language of sorrow, confusion and anger? 

Laments use pain, anguish, anger and confusion in a passionate search for some answering comfort or sense of hope. We have to learn to lament and to do it in community, whether that is on our own behalf or as a way of speaking for others in much worse situations. In some respects perhaps we are starting to see the need for lament more. As
Lament calls attention to the full reality of human loss and suffering.

It isn’t about how things ought to be. It’s about how things are. It’s about people shot by terrorists in Paris. It’s about people living in fear. It’s about Syria, Gaza, Iraq and so many other places and people in desperate straits. It’s about situations so dreadful that only God can change things and people and bring hope. Lament yells deep from an anguished heart – a raw wail that in itself is a prayer. If we care at all about the depths of other people’s suffering around the world, what other language can we use except that of lament? Do we really think that it’s not OK to yell out at God with feelings like that? That God somehow isn’t strong enough to cope with our anger?

Let’s allow Lamentations 3: 31 – 33 have the last word:
“For the Lord will not reject for ever. 
Although he causes grief,  
he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

(This post is republished from my #digidisciple post on the Big Bible Project website in January 2015 but using a different image.)


Comments

  1. I think it is partly that behaviours are changing and what was once the acceptable way to demonstrate grief woe anguish etc. has now been reduced to whinging and complaining.

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