Wineskins Archive

February 7, 2014

God Still Invites Us to Lament (May-Jun 2003)

Filed under: — @ 1:26 am and

by Mark LaValley
May – June, 2003

“Why have I never heard that we can talk to God like this?” Adam, a student in Psalms and Wisdom Literature, was reacting to that day’s material on the lament psalms. His reaction is similar to those I’ve heard when presenting in other forums. Lament psalms ask God raw, messy questions. By contrast, our places of worship seldom, if ever, do. Churches attempt to do Bible things in Bible ways, and yet this is not always true of our prayer life together.

Biblical prayer sometimes asks God difficult questions, like “Why?” (Psalm 74:1) and “How long?” (Psalm 13:1). Such prayer, often labeled “lament,” implies that God is patient—and even invites—our tearful questions. Some think of such questioning as a lower form of faith, an outmoded Old Testament weakness. We find, however, lament on the lips of Jesus (Mark 15:34) and the martyrs in heaven (Revelation 6:10). God’s fundamental character does not change from the Old Testament to the New. Since God has not changed, we may still ask him life’s difficult questions.

I’m intrigued by what some people say about their experience with lament. They feel free to interrogate God in the privacy of personal prayer. They tell of pouring out their heart to a God who receives them with mercy. As they voice their questions, God comes tenderly to comfort and console. When they finish, they have few if any theoretical answers for suffering. They do have, however, an experience of God’s tender mercy that is its own answer.

Church culture, however, does not easily tolerate public expressions of anger or confusion. We customarily praise God when we’re together. We ask him for deliverance. We sometimes even express sadness. But we do not often ask God to explain himself (“Why?”) nor do we ask him to reevaluate his timing (“How long?”). Still, there are people in our church that can teach us to lament if we will seek their wisdom.

We need to lament in the corporate assembly. The absence of lament is dangerous, for it can create a skewed view of faith. A lament-less faith is a question-free, always-got-it-together faith. Sadly, though, we sometimes teach Christians that they should not question. And yet questions are the very things believers (and seekers) intuitively understand. Many more seekers, for example, could choose to believe if faith did not require suppressing honest questions. We need to return to the Bible’s approach to prayer, for it teaches that God is patient with our anger and confusion. And we need to create opportunities for believers and seekers to experience this God in corporate lament.

For example, the church I serve has experienced lament in the assembly. It was a powerful, God-led happening I will never forget. Using an informal retreat environment, we spent Saturday examining the lament psalms and thinking about God’s patience to welcome such complaints. We invited people to write anonymous questions on index cards, instructing them to begin with either “Why?” or “How long?”

The Sunday assembly, then, became an embodiment of the many experiences of faith in three movements. First, we spent time singing songs of God’s constancy and provision. Second, we expressed lament. Unlike the first movement, it was difficult to find songs to express this mood. Abruptly the melodies ended. We reviewed the previous day’s lament material. Together we read aloud Psalm 88: the only lament psalm that ends without an expression of praise. A member gave a prepared testimony regarding her inability to have children and her questions about that. We read aloud other anonymous laments individuals had written. “Why won’t you heal Curtis?” one asked. “How long until I experience true love and intimacy in my marriage?” another questioned. Like waves crashing one after another, these questions had a powerful, cumulative effect. The heartache and despair were, for most, crushing.

We still had the third movement ahead: thanking God for his healing touch. But would anyone experience this? “I feel your arms around me as the power of your healing begins,” the final song said. Would this merely be a cover-up of our real feelings? God, however, brought us out of the pit. We sang slowly at first of our need for healing, but then somehow we transitioned to celebrating that the healing had begun. With tears rolling down our cheeks we worshipped a God of infinite power and love who did not have to give us a theory to explain our suffering. He had given us something much better. He had given us a vision of his tender mercy, in part because we had been willing to lament.New Wineskins

Mark LaValley

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