Learning to Lament

Guest post by J.M.

Do you remember the “bop bags” from when you were a kid? Those air filled punching bags with sand at the bottom. My brothers had one with batman on it. I prefer the clown one. If you ask me, clowns are just asking to be hit.

These kiddy punching bags summarize what 2011 was for a great number of my friends. Where people are the bag and life is the little hyper kid who snuck into the kitchen pantry and ate spoonfuls of sugar. First he punches the bag once and watches in amazement that the little air filled bag picks itself back up – asking for another punch. The kid happily obliges. However, fuelled by the spoonfuls of sugar the kid doesn’t hit the bag – he pummels it – giving the sadistically smiling clown no chance to get up, until finally the kid just jumps on the bag, pinning it down, and wails on it. The clown’s only hope is that the parents will call the kid in for dinner… which of course, the kid won’t eat, because he ruined his dinner with the spoonfuls of sugar.

2011 was a year when many of my friends were pummeled. It was a year full of suffering. Suffering ranging from the loss of one or more close family members to small (but costly) problems that just kept coming and drained patience, pocketbooks and sanity; and every type of suffering in between.

Suffering sucks. We live in a world that is cursed, so sometimes bad things (calamity or &#$!) happen. There is much that can be said about the source of evil and calamity. But that’s for another blog. I want to discuss how Christians should respond to suffering.

In America Christians are tempted  – nay, encouraged – to ignore or at least downplay suffering. We slap on a fake smile and sing happy-happy-joy-joy songs.

But the fake smile does not negate our suffering.

Some have left the church because they have seen the fakeness, or were even pressured into living with a fake smile. Today there are many weeping behind their mask.

We need – as the Church – to learn how to lament. Nearly 1/3 of the Psalms are lament psalms. That’s a lot of lamenting. Sadly, lament songs seldom never get updated and put into modern church repertoire. Why? We’re afraid to lament. Often our theology is so weak it can’t handle it.

Let’s take a quick look at lament psalms. Lament psalms have seven typical features (not all lament psalms have each feature). (Ex: Ps 3, 10, 22, 42, 54, 56, 77, 86, 142)

1) Address to God (basically a salutation)
2) Description of suffering
3) Curse called against the one causing the pain
4) Declaration of innocence (or admission of guilt)
5) Petition for God to intervene and stop the suffering
6) Confidence expressed that God will respond
7) Thanksgiving/praise for what God will do

Lamenting does not mean that we wallow in self-pity, or that we pat ourselves on the back for being martyrs. No!  Lamenting is honestly acknowledging the suffering and, if known, it’s cause (#2-4). Don’t treat it as the “thing-which-must-not-be-named.” No, boldly call it by its proper name!

But don’t stop there. Acceptance is a poor place to end. We are not called to just accept suffering. Learn from the psalmists. They see the God who is bigger than their pain, they ask Him to intervene, and they praise him (#5-7). They praise him after lamenting, and even while lamenting. God is praised because the psalmists have confidence that – even though they don’t understand how – God would make all things right. Now, because of the revelation in the New Testament, we know that one day God will return to restore his creation, to recreate it, to remove all sin and suffering. So even though we suffer and lament today we know there will come a day when all things are made right and there will be no more lamenting. Cling to that future hope.

When a spouse dies, when a parent dies, when someone is suffering with a horrible sickness, when everything around you is falling apart – Lament!  Wail! Cry out! Be honest with God. Ask the hard questions. But in it all and through it all know that God is bigger. It may not make a lick of sense why such horrible suffering is allowed to happen; but know that God is great. God is compassionate and just. And live with hope, knowing that He has promised that He is coming again and he will make all things right. There will come a time when there will be no more mourning and no more lamenting. Lament and pray for that day to come soon.

On a final note, I’m going to point out something that is so obvious that you may have overlooked it. Lament psalms are in a songbook. These songs were sung bylevitical choirs. While one person wrote the song because of a horrible situation they were going through, they were included in an ancient hymnal for the community to sing… together. Can you imagine what a church community would look like that sings lament songs together? When one member of the community is suffering their fellow Believers gather around them on Sunday morning (or whenever) and belt out a mournful lamenting melody; a melody full of grief but under-girded with hope.

We need to learn how to lament and how to lament with those who are lamenting.


Here is a  short clip from a practical theologian who does a great job describing the need for lament.

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)

Photo by -Jeffrey-

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