Monday Musings

Lament, Resistance and Prayer

Last week I took on Jesus’ teaching on worry and anxiety in Matthew 6. One of the reasons behind why I think we need to be suspect about this teaching is that it is in tension with the tradition of lament in the First Testament. The psalter contains some phenomenal examples of lament. For reference, look at Psalms 22, 39, 42, 43 and 139 (there are plenty more). The lament psalms create friction with Jesus’ command to not worry or be anxious. Ultimately, the thrust of what Jesus teaches is that God is in control, therefore, one need not be concerned about daily matters and the stuff of life. Sit back. Relax. Take a deep breath. If God clothes the lilies and feeds the ravens, you will be more than taken care of. The problem, though, which I tried to highlight in my post last week, is that there are many many people who are not taken care of. When people are not fed or clothed, or are without a home, do we simply throw up our hands and trust that God is in control while accepting the reality that many will remain hungry and poor? Is that part of God’s plan? We must say no. The lament tradition helps us to relate to God in the face of poverty, hunger, oppression, suffering or darkness. These things are not part of God’s plan. It is not right to claim that the suffering and pain and hurt that mark the human experience is the will of God (or caused by God) and we must resist theological statements that resign to accepting the status quo and the darkness of life as ordained by God, which makes them good, and which insists that God must be praised. Lament calls on God to change the trajectory of history.

The lament tradition insists that:

1. Things are not right in the present arrangement.

2. They need not stay this way but can be changed.

3. The speaker will not accept them in this way, for it is intolerable.

4. It is God’s obligation to change things.[1]

Commenting on Psalm 39, Walter Brueggemann states: 

This Psalm characteristically brings to speech the cry of a troubled earth (v. 12). Where the cry is not voiced, heaven is not moved and history is not initiated. And then the end is hopelessness. Where the cry is seriously voiced, heaven may answer and earth may have a new chance. The new resolve in heaven and the new possibility on earth depend on the initiation of protest. [2]

This changes the face of prayer. How we view God’s interaction and involvement in the world seriously affects the reasons why we pray as well as how we pray.

The following link is to Walter Brueggemann’s article, “The Costly Loss of Lament,” from which the above quotations were taken. Read it. It’s phenomenal.

1. Walter Brueggemann, “The Costly Loss of Lament,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament vol. 36 (1986), 62.
2. Ibid., 66.
  1. Lindsey said:

    A freakin men. Things are not right in their present arrangement. They can be changed.

  2. This is deep, Pete, and I appreciate it. I see a huge distinction between do not worry (fret, wring hands, forget that God loves you) vs do not grieve as we clearly see God grieved and moved – I love your exploration of the term lament – vs do not act. I vote that we first lament, then act, and turn away from worry.

    I love your post.

  3. peterjosephgarcia said:

    Thanks for responding, Kiersten!

    I think the worry/anxiety piece goes even deeper than fretting and forgetting we are loved. In the passage, Jesus is most likely talking to quite poor folks who are living hand to mouth. . .yet he tells them to not worry about being fed or provided for. Taken today, can (or WOULD) you say the same thing to a group of poor people of color who are culturally disadvantaged and for whom providing for their family consumes much time and energy? Jesus assumes an order to creation that seems absent from our midst.

    The tricky thing about all this is that although I am seeking sensitivity, I am still operating through a very Western lens that understands worry and anxiety through the eyes of an addicted culture. I have never been poor, so I do not know what it is like to be told not to worry about basic staples to sustain life.

    The biggest problem is when us privileged people look to a passage like this in Matthew 6 and take comfort in the fact that we are not just provided and cared for, but have an abundance of provisions (that we are addicted to). I do not think that is what Jesus had in mind.

    That Jesus, I tell ya…

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