The value of lament

I have written a lot about this, as you might expect from someone who spent more than a decade working on lament, but it is always good to hear others say the same thing. Peter Enns has a nice summary of a lecture by Walter Brueggemann on “God’s Infidelity.” Brueggemann is “Mr. Psalms” and he was addressing the fact that a majority of psalms take God to task for seemingly abandoning his people and reneging on his promises. I have often said that perhaps the greatest lesson that we can take from the Psalms is the importance of being open and truthful with God about our feelings, including our anger towards God. (He’s big, he can handle it.)


What can we learn from this? Here is what Brueggemann said:  “Churches should be the most honest place in town, not the happiest place in town.”

Maybe we have lost the “art of lament,” where complaining to God is part of the deal. Maybe, rather than playing church and make-believe, a vital dimension of the spiritual journey is giving God an earful now and then. Maybe God can handle it. Maybe God likes it, because it means we are being real and not fake.

Maybe if you’re angry with God now and then, you’re normal. Maybe that’s part of being the people of God.

The challenge is, of course, that while we can ask and reply, “Is God actually at the end of the day unfaithful? No, I don’t believe so.” We still receive no real answer to why these tragedies were allowed by God to occur. Like Peter, I believe that God is not unfaithful, but I cannot tell you how it all squares with the death of my son (and the millions of other innocents who die). What I do know is that we are to be honest with God. Those who counsel people in grief to simply “love God and let go” are denying us (and God) the vital action of open and honest response to God.

It is, fundamentally, an act of faith.

Consider it this way. In my work on Lamentations, those poems written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem, many have written that the portions that include outrage and accusations to God are evidence of a growing disbelief in God, the rejection of the belief in a God who controlled history and cared for Israel. But Lamentations and all biblical lament is exactly the opposite. You don’t argue with someone you don’t believe in. The very act of accusing God of inaction or punishment is the affirmation of one’s belief not only in God, but the covenantal relationship with God. It is, fundamentally, an act of faith.

We lament, we cry out and inarticulately declare our anger and bitterness.
Our tears are the waters of the deep, there is no end of them.
Still, the spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters.

HT: Brian LePort

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