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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.

http://www.friendschurchsw.org/uploads/mod5_brueggemann_on_loss_of_lament.pdf

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