A Time to Lament

In a study of the OT Psalms, we learn that there are “psalms (songs) of lament.” So, what is “lament,” and why would anyone sing about it? A dictionary definition is, broadly, “passionate expression of grief; a song or poem of mourning or sorrow; to mourn, bemoan, bewail, deplore, regret.” Certainly, the ancient Israelites were no strangers to struggles and suffering. They often cried out to their God in songs of lament, in response to oppression, grief, and injustice.

Thus, for some reason, during the season of Lent and one year after the beginning of the Covid virus pandemic, it seems rather appropriate to consider why we lament. Masks hide our faces and block any smiles; the morbid nightly news keeps us informed as to testing, treatments, and the numbers of deaths. We still cannot travel and visit loved ones with confidence; “community” means faces on a computer (“can you hear me now??”). How long will this go on? Life as we used to know it is over.

But, thankfully, we are better off today than we were a year ago, which seems like an eternity. I found some thoughts that appeared in print twelve months ago, and they are just as appropriate today. One of my favorite authors, NT Wright, authored an article about resisting the temptation to try to create human explanations for the global crisis of the pandemic. Wright asks us to remember that our Christian faith offers us a way to lament and grieve that leads to hope: “It is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain – and lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.” The ancient writers of the psalms could not explain away the evil in their culture, either; they just lamented.

In view of NT Wright’s words, Dr. Glenn Packiam, a pastor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, out-lined five things we should know about lamenting:

  1. To lament is a form of praise. That is, to complain against God is to question his very nature and character; it is an accusation and a rejection of his authority. A lament is a petition to God based on the assurance of his righteousness and his character. It is recognition of who he is and that he is able to help and to heal.
  2. To lament is proof of a relationship. The ancient psalmists based their pleas on the binding covenant between God and his people. If there is no relationship, then there is no one there to rescue and redeem…no one there to heal the pain and suffering. But in Christ, we have been given the New Covenant, and the binding promises of God!
  3. The lament is a pathway to intimacy with God. Like any good parent, Father God cares for his own and loves them deeply. Honest prayers of mourning are precious in his sight, for he wants us to turn to him. It is our desire to express our emotions to a God who knows them anyway, and he is anxious to heal those who turn to him for help.
  4. Lament is a prayer for God to act. Laments can be individual prayers, or communal prayers for a church, or a nation. This is what I have felt in the last year – so many pleas to God to forgive our nation, cleanse and heal us, and turn our hearts toward him. Only God can solve the complex issues of our times (not one political party or another). I still wait, with anticipation, for God to act to relieve the pain and sorrow and disappointments of the last year. 
  5. Lament is a participation in the pain of others. We mourn together in the face of disease, isolation, hatred, anger, violence, and death. Thank God we have each other, even if it is on “Zoom.” Lament is “solidarity with the suffering.” Remember that Jesus died a cruel and evil death on the cross; his death was, indeed, the ultimate prayer of solidarity with suffering humanity.

Every prayer of lament that we pray is heard and heeded by God: “But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth….Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long” (Ps 74:12, 22).

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of your deeds” (Ps 73:26-28).


Author: Judy

Christian educator, writer, specializing in the New Testament

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