A Christian Response to Suffering: Lament

“I say to God, my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?  Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’” (Ps 42.9, NIV)[1] 

In this series, lament is our second Christian response to suffering.  The other four responses are listening, empathy, compassionate service, and hopeful living.  While presently I don’t believe these responses must be employed in the linear progression which I am developing them in this series, I do want to stress that listening must always be our first response.

For this post, I want to say something about Lament.  One of the reasons why we are tempted to speak quickly when confronted with suffering is that such experience forces upon us troubling thoughts and questions about our world we would rather not fathom and thus we speak to deflect in hopes of everything returning to normal.  However, once we truly listen to those who are suffering we will find ourselves at a loss of words to explain and grapple with such suffering.  One of my favorite lines in the Psalter says “You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Ps 77.4). 

Indeed there are times we are too troubled to speak.   Fortunately, for such times we are given a voice in scripture.  It is the voice of Lament.  The collection of Psalms is full of lament, though lament in scripture is not limited to the Psalms.[2]  These Psalms of lament were a voice in the faith of Israel at times when trouble and distress replaced certainty and joy.[3]  Lament gives us the voice to protest, question, and vent our anger in faith.  Lament arises not because we have stopped believing in God and his providential rule over creation but because we do believe and therefore cannot understand why…why suffering exists under the watchful care of God. 

At this point, lament becomes our prayer.  Lament become our voice to God to protest as we try to grasp that which infinitely seems beyond our understanding, to ask God for deliverance and nearness (since God seems so distant in our suffering), and, as many of the Psalms of lament to, to journey towards a renewed hope that allows us to live with confidence in God again.  I believe the scriptures are the place to begin such a prayer, utilizing the scriptures as a guidance to pray with and for those who are suffering.  But I believe biblical faith permits us to speak our own prayers of lament in words which our germane to our own unique experiences of suffering.  Recently I posted my own prayer of lament in response to a world where innocent victims suffer the consequences of constant violence carried out by others.  I offer that link here as one example of voicing our own lament within the confines of biblical faith.

Finally, I offer two practical suggestions.  First, the suggestion of offering prayers of lament for those who suffer is not meant that such prayers are necessarily offered in the presence of those who are suffering.  We ought to use discretion and not force one who is suffering into something they may not be ready to personally participate.  Sometimes simply letting the one who suffers know that we do not understand, that we are sorry, and that we are praying for them is enough.  If we have been truly listening, we will know when and what is appropriate. 

Secondly, many churches have included in the worship “praise songs” as well as “praise teams” to aid in leading the church in worship.  Where are the “lament songs” and “lament teams”?  Though well intended, the focus on “praise” has ignored the place of lament within worship and it has done this against scripture which insists that lament has a necessary place in worship.  Churches would do well to think about how they might incorporate lament into their worship for the sake of those present who have endured suffering throughout the week.

 


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Some of the Psalms of lament include, though not limited too, Ps 22; 42-43; 77; 88; 137; 142.

[3] Brueggeman thus classifies the collection of Psalms into three categories of orientation, disorientation, new orientation.  See Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984), 19.  Psalms of orientation describe a neatly ordered life, while disorientation give voice to a life shattered by suffering (thus, disorientation), and new orientation speaks of the post-suffering life where hope has been renewed. 

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2 responses to “A Christian Response to Suffering: Lament

  1. Pingback: A Christian Response to Suffering: Empathy « Kingdom Seeking

  2. Pingback: A Christian Response to Suffering: Compassionate Service « Kingdom Seeking

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