Lament

On the issue of lament...I'm convinced this is one of the great absences of modern Evangelical faith that must be recaptured. However, it is not a simple issue. I know we know this, but it’s not what we know but what we keep saying that sticks…

Mat 5:4 claims, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” However, we are not oriented to mourning. Most of our Evangelical/Charismatic ethos is celebration and victory (this is pretty much our American ethos as well). We run immediately to the FIX of redemption, not patiently facing what it is we are ultimately redeemed from. We don’t want to face suffering head on—to taste or experience its loss.

Walter Brueggemann writes:

“Jesus sees that only those who mourn will be comforted.  Only those who embrace the reality of death will receive the new life.  Implicit in his statement is that those who do not mourn will not be comforted and those who do not face the endings will not receive the newness ... I used to think it curious that, when having to quote Scripture on demand, someone would inevitably say, 'Jesus wept.'  It is usually done as a gimmick to avoid having to quote a longer passage.  But now I understand the depth of that verse. Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: (a) that weeping must be real because endings are real; and (b) that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the kingdom to come. Such weeping is a fearful dismantling because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones.  Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for…”

So, my first impulse would be to urge people to not rush past loss to fix. We must be patient and grieve / morn for comfort to come.

Secondly, I would argue that we need to realize lament demands a great sense of intimacy. In the movie, Rendition, an abduction-thriller film about the CIA that came out a few years ago, there is this riveting scene where one of the main characters, “Abbas-i” is a high-ranking official who is the target of a terrorist bomb. He has a daughter (Fatima) who inadvertently ends up close to where the bomb, which is to kill Abbas-i, her father and she ends up being killed herself.

The tension of this moment is that Abbas-i and his wife have been having an ongoing argument about his dangerous position and how it was putting their whole family at risk—but Abbas-i’s resolve to serve his country was unbending. The scene is when Abbas-i, after actively looking for his missing daughter for days, walks into the room to his wife after discovering their daughter was killed with the bomb being targeted for him. Without a word, the wife sees in Abbas-i’s eyes what happened. In sheer grief she begins to scream and run to Abbas-i hitting him on his chest with gut-wrenching tears. He just stood there and took it gently holding on to his wife’s shoulders as she hit him. She quickly exhausts and falls into Abbas-i’s arms and he holds her in silence as she continues to sob.

She was blaming him (though she knew he didn’t directly do this0.

He was letting her blame him, willing to take her punches and was simply present. 

When I saw this I thought: “This is lament.”

It is something of great intimacy. We can dare to blame God precisely because on some level we believe he could have prevented it and yet we know he is good. 

Ps. 10:1 says, ”Why do you stand so far off O, Lord, and hide yourself in time of trouble." 

This is why I love the Psalms...these are gut, honest prayers--not theology. Just like a close friend or spouse telling you, "I hate you right now" over some disappointment or hurt. That person would be uttering FEELINGS, not belief or truth.

I think in times of heartache it's right to vent feelings about “why Lord” or when we are hit with the sense that things are not fair.

Stuffing these feelings thinking we are being faithful is a deception.

God knows our hearts and invites us to complain in prayer (this is why these lament prayers fill many sections of sacred text)—with the caveat that after you throw-up on God (and that is what it is), we remember he has historically been faithful and able towards you. 

Later in Psalm 10, the psalmist continues: "Surely you behold trouble and misery; you see it and take it into your own hand." In the end, God is faithful. But we should avail ourselves to praying the psalms during evil times in order to process the disappointment of pain and trouble.

I blather on to simply ask, Can we really lament without understanding it? Maybe until lament becomes an understood and practiced expression we need to simply "pray for" people...I'm not sure that people actually feel close enough to God to actually lament in its proper sense. 

The first person I ever saw that seemed to have this was a Catholic nun in the 70's. She looked at me and flatly said, "I threw my Bible at God today." 

I said in shock, "What?" 

She told me again and I asked her why. She said, "I told him that I was his bride [then told me parenthetically "I'm a nun, you know. I see Christ as my husband."], and I told him that he needs to start treating me like a woman."

My first thought was, "And you lived to talk about it?!"

But something else rose up in me. I thought, "Man, I wish I was that close to God to be that honest."

I'm not sure many are. And if they are not, I'm not sure we can truly lament as congregations without more training. But prayer is good.