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Soong Chung Ra describes lament as the church’s response when it refuses to give up in the midst of suffering. NT Wright defines lament as what happens when you ask God “Why?” and don’t get an answer.
Lament is talking to God about our pain, fear, doubts, or disappointment. It is entering into the uncomfortable space of suffering and being fully open, raw, and honest with God, and then sitting in that space without rationalizing about what is happening or trying to solve it. Lament is our response to God’s invitation to come before in Him in our suffering and to pour out our anguish to Him. The anguish that we pour out may be related to our own selves, it may be related to others, or it may relate to a general or systemic brokenness that we see in the world.
Lament is a form of worship, because no matter how deep the pain/sorrow/bitterness/disappointment/anger/fear/doubt we express, the act of bringing it to the LORD honors Him, builds intimacy with Him, and simultaneously reminds us Who/what we long for and where our hope ultimately lies. Entering into lament allows God, in God’s own time, to bring us back to hope.Thus, though lament may not look like it on the surface, it is actually a deep act of hope and trust.
There are many reasons why every Christian ought to practice lament. First, we see Jesus himself lamenting to God (e.g., Matt 26:39, 42, 44), and Scripture is replete with examples of godly people pouring out their hearts to God (most notably in the Psalms and Lamentations). Even creation is said to cry out to God in lament (Rom 8:21-22).
Second, Jesus expects his followers to lament. He tells us in the beatitudes, which paint a picture of the type of disciple Jesus wants, that lamenting is a core characteristic of his people in this age: “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). It is not a stretch to say that those who really know God must lament, for the more they know God, the more they will know what God desires for this world and how far short of that vision this world falls. The closer one gets to God, the more attuned one’s heart will become to suffering and injustice.
Relatedly, we are commanded to lament: Romans 12:15 states that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. Walter Bruggeman is correct in saying that the first half of this verse comes much easier to the dominant culture than the second half; in his words, “‘the haves’ develop a theology of celebration; the ‘have-nots’ develop a theology of suffering and survival…[and cry out] for a vision of survival and salvation.” Those who belong to the dominant culture must therefore take special care to learn to lament with those who are experiencing greater levels of suffering and injustice.
Third, lament honors God and helps to build intimacy with Him and with others. As mentioned above, to bring our deep pain and frustration to God is to trust Him with our hearts and with our hope. This deep personal time with Him builds intimacy as it would in any other relationship. And the more that we notice and care for the suffering of others and lament with them, the stronger the solidarity between us.
Finally, lament helps us to endure when we face suffering and disappointment. The presence of sin in this world and the brokenness it creates ensures that every one of us will face suffering at some point (this is especially true for those who are minority culture). Lament is the open window that releases the toxic fumes of bitterness, resentment, despair and ushers in the fresh air of hope and trust. Even if we don’t immediately sense that hope and trust, God will eventually bring them to our awareness in His perfect time.
Because lament is such a deep and guttural cry of the soul, it is not possible to give three simple steps to lamenting and be done with it. However, a few useful guidelines are as follows:
Church that doesn’t lament
|Church that laments|
|Worship||Worships God primarily in good times||Recognizes our own limitations; brings full selves to God; places hope not in our own effort or ingenuity but the creator|
|Community||Creates expectation either consciously or subconsciously that spiritual health of relationship with God is correlated to living going well (I act right God will bless me)||Is a community where it’s ok not to be OK; teaches us to be with one another through pain and discomfort|
|Justice||Will jump to try fix problems (long history of doing more harm than good)||Experienced in crying out to God at the injustice in the world; learns to be with those suffering from injustice, not in an effort to fix or solve but to mourn with those who mourn|