The Importance of Lament

Session 7.26

Introduction

While most of us have not experiences the communal tragedy that these Israelites faced, most of us can connect to a feeling of being cut off from God and from community. We know what it is like to long for God’s restoration and a sense of safety and belonging and for it to not be available to us.

Scripture: Lamentations 3:22-32

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. 
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’

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Additional Background Information

Nikki’s Notes

Nikki shares some of her sources for inspiration and study as she develops her video script.

Today’s text is clearly a lament and in the Bible Background Video, I discussed the importance of participating in lament as an act of worship and as a symbol that we are not turning our back on God.

In the Bible, we see the use of lament mostly clearly in the book of Lamentations and in the book of Psalms. And in the Psalms we see that the lament takes a very specific form.

  • First there is an Invocation in which the psalmist addresses God.
  • Second the psalmist makes his/her complaint known.
  • Third, the psalmist makes a petition or names out loud what he/she wants God to do about the problem.
  • Fourth, the psalmist makes an expression of trust that God will come through.
  • Finally, the psalmist praises God for all God has done in the past and will do in the future.

The form for the lament is incredibly important because it shows that there is a method for bringing a complaint to God and it seems that when it follows this pattern it is worshipful and helpful.

All of the lament psalms follow this pattern except one, Psalm 89. This is a psalm that begins as a praise and turns to lament, but never gets past the complaint stage. This psalm is believed to be about the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and it is clear that the psalmist was in complete desperation and anguish.

I take hope that even this lament was included in scripture and that is because it shows that even when our pain does not fit in some prescribed method, it is a valid way of coming before God. The Israelites who put the Bible together could have easily left that psalm out or added some to it to make it more palatable. But they let it stand in all of its pain and without resolution.

The Israelites seem to take great comfort in sharing their grief with one another and this seems to be because of how they valued community. We live in a society that values the individual over the community and that may serve us well in some ways, but we loose a great deal when we do not realize the importance of community and how vital that is to our practice of faith.

Additional Links

Bible in Five: Lamentations (Video)

Bringing Our Pain to God

Lamentations – From Biblica

(Editor’s note:  check out the podcast for this session to hear the team discuss lament in depth).

Nikki’s Video Script

The Importance of Lament

Today, we are engaging the book of Lamentations in chapter 3:22-32. The book is comprised of 5 poems and they are the author’s response to the Judah’s exile in Babylon.

The author of this book has witnessed a terrible tragedy in the life of the people of Israel. He watched and experienced the complete dismantling of Israel’s way of life and the way they related God as Babylon effectively destroyed their temple and Jerusalem, their capital.

In the book, there is an acknowledgment that God’s wrath was brought on by Israel’s lack of faithfulness as a nation and at the same, the author seems to question if the punishment was fair and if it fit the crime. The suffering that the people have endured has been relentless and according to the author, seemingly unbearable. The way the people have understood God in the past, the theological constructs they have used to talk about God are not holding up under the weight of their pain and suffering.

Yet, here in the middle of the book, the communal memory of God’s faithfulness springs up and the author declares, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He goes on to say, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.”

And if you read all the way to the end of the book, we discover that the Israelites and this author are still waiting on God. Through the entire book, there is not one response from God to the suffering of these people. God does not speak one time.

While most of us have not experiences the communal tragedy that these Israelites faced, most of us can connect to a feeling of being cut off from God and from community. We know what it is like to long for God’s restoration and a sense of safety and belonging and for it to not be available to us.

  • A teenager who is being bullied at school.
  • A mom who cannot figure out how to connect with her kid.
  • A dad who works so hard to put food on the table a feels like there is no end in sight.
  • A sister who cannot find the words to tell her brother she is sorry
  • A brother who feels like the outcast of the family.

We all have some moment in our lives in which we have felt desperately alone. Yet, our culture, our society, and even our churches do not make room for us to say these things out loud.

I think the ancient Israelites understood something that we do not understand today. Sometimes, you have to say out loud what you experience with your heart and body — even if it contradicts what you think to be true. There is good in naming what it is like to feel like God has left you and abandoned you.

The book of Lamentations challenges the notion that passive and silent suffering are preferred by the community and by God.

Sometimes it feels like God is gone, like God is absent or unavailable. The book of Lamentations gives us permission to say that out loud to name it to someone else. We may long to believe that God’s steadfast love endures forever, but there are times when it doesn’t feel like that is true. In those moments, it can be very important to name our sense of loneliness out loud.

This idea of Lament is a common in the Old Testament. We find it not only in this book, but also scattered through the psalms and in the book of Job. We are reminded that lament, no matter how strong, can be an incredibly faithful act because we are remaining present to our pain and we are not turning away from God, but continuing to turn toward God.

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