Note: Our weekly readings tend to come from two different sources: The Book of Common Prayer (Year A, B, or C) or the Revised Common Lectionary. The verse I am covering was not included in the intro post on Monday but is part of the readings for this week nonetheless.
One of the literary forms most used in scripture but is least understood in western culture is the Lament. Quite honestly, we don’t really know what to do with it. Coming from a heritage that tends to paint God as more of an angry tyrant than a loving father really doesn’t help my ease with this attitude of writing.
So, if you held an attitude about God being angry and vengeful – would you feel comfortable with scriptures like this?
Psalm 13 (NLT)
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.
And, on the scale of Laments, this one is pretty tame. Depending on the version you read, there are some pretty stiff demands David makes of God. In these short verses he essentially accuses God of forgetting him, letting him fall into depression, not protecting him, and overall turning his back on him.
If I could sum up the first 3/4 of this Psalm in a few words, it would be this:
You have really let me down, God. I don’t why these things are happening and why you won’t help. If you are the God you say you are, show me.
I have friends who have lost their faith because they could not reconcile the bad things that happened in scripture, or even in the world around them with a God who says he loves us. When I read Psalms like this, I can only assume David would identify with what they are talking about.
There is little room for this kind of honest talk and thought in western church. We focus a lot on what God can do for us or our sin or what we need to be doing different. Yet, when it comes down to how we REALLY feel, we keep that bottled up.
When we bottle up how we really feel about God or the circumstances we find ourselves in – it festers. Anger and disappointment unexpressed acts like any other repressed feeling. Left unidentified long enough – it turns into something really toxic and immeshed into our very selves. We become the disappointment and angry when, if we trusted God enough with these emotions, could have been part of our healing.
So, how would engaging in Lament in your own life change things? A few thoughts:
1. Less anger and resentment –
We were made for connection. It seems like in all other areas of our lives we find healing and comfort with connecting to people and God, especially with our happier moments. When we lament, we connect with God about how we are really hurting. A light is shined in the darker places of our hearts, and even if we do not understand, we know we are not alone. The times in my own life when I was the most angry and resentful was when I chose to be alone and not give a voice to my pain. God gives us this avenue as a place to find rest and peace, even if nothing really changes.
2. An alternative to cynicism –
This might seem a little like the first, but I think cynicism is more of a way of life than simply being angry or resentful. Those things can pass with time, but the cynic tends to adopt a lifestyle of negativity and victimhood. With lament, we choose to lay our cynical tendencies down when we voice our displeasure. But to do this, I believe the cynic must make a ritual of lament. Just as cynicism is a way of life, so should be the intimate connection with God to find healing through lament.
3. A way to combat doubt –
I am not saying Lament will cure doubt. But, I will say the best way to express our doubts about what God is up to is through Lament. Like the first point, we find when we give a voice to our doubts, we find a new perspective and see things in a different light. When we lament, we might through our prayers, see an angle to our doubts we had never considered.
Sometimes we need God show us what he is up to in the middle of life difficulties. Giving voice to that desire is the first step in finding healing, hope, and a glimpse of what God is up to.
What are your thoughts on this? How has Lament intersected with your life?