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Lament – 17 disorders to avoid

Lament

Lament – 17 disorders to avoid

During the last twenty years Lament has been rediscovered. It’s a gift from God to transport us into his future, but it can be misunderstood when viewed through the lens of therapy culture. This leads to disorders of Lament which we do well to avoid. There are corresponding disorders of praise as well..

In this series of posts on Lament I will list the disorders, remind us that we can make use of the Old Testament when seeking models for Christian prayer, and look to show how Lament should work to transport us into God’s future. Lament is a powerful transport system.

True Lament is a cry of protest to God!

Lament is a speech form for processing pain.

Lament is a process, not a place. Lament is a departure, not a destination.

Lament and praise appear to exist in creative tension.

Both have their focus on God so what is the contrast? The contrast seems to be one of mood.

In laments the mood being expressed can best be described with adjectives such as: doubting, confused, angry, distressed, upset, melancholic, anxious, despairing, and such like.

In praise the mood being expressed can best be described with adjectives such as: faith-filled, confident, assured, determined, settled, joyful, peaceful, hopeful, and such like.

The purpose of lament is to move us to a changed perspective on circumstances or events such that our mood changes, although the timescales to make this journey may be longer than anyone imagines or wants.

Disordered lament and praise.

Let’s consider that, as with so many other aspects of the Christian life, Satan offers a disordered version of the true rhythms of Christian living.

If this is the case here, how might we identify disordered versions of both lament and praise?

We can consider whether the spirit of the age is distorting our practices.

We can all recognise that:

  • Faith without honesty is delusion.
  • Honesty without faith is despair.
Lament
Woman in despair

I theorise that:

  • An idolised/idealised ‘therapy culture’ offers us a distortion of lament.
  • An idolised/idealised ‘consumer culture’ offers us a distortion of praise.

Here are my 17 Disorders of Lament and Praise:

Distorted lamentDistorted praise
WhiningBoasting
Honesty trumps faithFaith trumps honesty
Self-loathingSelf-promoting
System-blamingPoor-blaming
If you suffer, it’s never your faultIf you suffer, it’s always your fault
Self-pityOther-pity
Invites others to see us as smallInvites others to see us as big
Victim-thinkingVictim-blaming
I’m hard done byThey’re good for nothing
Denying that anything is rightDenying that anything is wrong
People must accept me as I amAt all costs I must look the part
Seeks to manipulate God with needinessSeeks to manipulate God with self-reliance
Withholds praise to ‘hurt’ GodOffers praise – but from lips only, not heart
Thinks God obligates us to praise so he’ll be good to usThinks praise obligates God to be good to us
People owe meGod owes me
People must make me happyGod must make me happy
Quickly believes the worst about GodWill not hear challenge to theology of God

The Biblical background to lament and praise.

The practice of Lament is largely found in the Old Testament so is it relevant to New Testament believers?

There is no book of Psalms in the New Testament. Clearly the Holy Spirit did not think he needed to provide an alternative model for Christians to use. Hence from the earliest days, the church has looked to the Psalms for patterns of worship.

Dave Fellingham writes that James’ quotation from Amos in Acts 15:16-17 indicates a recovery by the early church of the model of worship inaugurated by King David, as well as a recovery of grace (Fellingham, 1995, pp.104-105). This does not seem incompatible with Stott’s understanding of this passage as “a prophecy of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, the seed of David, and the establishment of his people” (Stott, 1990, p.247).

What innovation in praise and worship had David introduced?

The worship of Israel involved animal sacrifice alone until the time of King David c.1011-971BC (dates from New Bible Dictionary 1962, p.219).

David had an ambition to erect a temple in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7) but the prophet Nathan told David that it was to be one of his offspring who would build a house for God (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

During this period a new kind of worship using instruments and voices developed in parallel to the worship by means of animal sacrifice. 1 Chronicles 16 describes the two centres at which these two kinds of worship were expressed.

Worship by animal sacrifice “in accordance with everything written in the law of the LORD,” (1 Chronicles 16:40) continued at Gibeon under the authority of Zadok and the other priests (Gibeon was where the “tabernacle” was still situated).

Then there was the emergence of sung worship in Jerusalem around the “ark of God” which had been set down inside “the tent that David had pitched for it.” (1 Chronicles 16:1). While the worship round the “ark” in Jerusalem was inaugurated with animal sacrifice the main thrust of this worship was the singing by the Levites, led by men appointed by David to this role (Greenslade. 2003, pp.16-17 and Fellingham. 1995, pp.102-108).

The Psalms were likely written in the period of the emergence of this novel practice of sung worship (Jinkins 1998, p.40).

The Christian church adopted and continued the use of singing in worship, especially the use of the Psalms, and never practiced animal sacrifice. Christ’s substitutionary atoning sacrifice on the cross was understood to make all animal sacrifice redundant.

Lament is a cry of protest to God
Racial Justice Protest

But the question remains why Christians would use the Old Testament psalms as patterns of worship.

Early in her book on the use of the Psalms Ellen F. Davis considers why Christian believers should take an Old Testament model for New Testament worship.

She rejects the two most common Christian positions with respect to the Old Testament. On one hand, the position most often taken by Christians of a liberal leaning—that the Old Testament is either tedious or an embarrassment ethically—should be rejected. On the other hand, the position most often adopted by Christians of evangelical persuasion—that the Old Testament is simply to set the scene for Christ; give us useful history; and provide moral lessons—should also be rejected.

Davis warns the church to avoid repeating the first Christian heresy, Marcionism.

Marcion rejected the Old Testament and made an exaggerated contrast between law and gospel. Instead Davis proposes that we will find much in the Old Testament about walking with God, and asserts that both Christ and the apostles regarded the Old Testament as a given for Christians, a text that the New Testament writers could assume and need not duplicate (Davis, 2001, pp.1-4). In support of this Davis quotes Seitz who writes that the Old Testament is “not authoritative only where it is referred to in the New, but also when it is deferred to.” (Davis, 2001, p.2).

We can freely plunder the Psalms.

We conclude that the Psalms are a powerful resource for believers because of the insight they give us into the manner of relating to God—an insight into both the interior manner and the public manners of the saints of God.

As Calvin wrote, “here the prophets themselves…are exhibited to us as speaking to God, and laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections…” (Calvin, 1999, Author’s Preface). Christ himself prayed a Psalm of lament, Psalm 22, from the cross (Matthew 27:46); and Paul described himself as despairing of life itself (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

Davis observes how often metaphor is used in the lament Psalms.

This has the benefit of conveying the feelings of suffering accurately while drawing a veil of silence over the actual circumstances. This is part of the genius of the lament Psalms since this makes these Psalms available to every person and every generation. Thus we can all make use of them either because we ourselves are in pain, or because we remember pain and wish to keep compassion alive—compassion for others who suffer (Davis, 2001, p.20).

On this basis we can approach the Psalms of Lament with confidence that they provide a model for New Testament as well as Old Testament believers.

(Obviously there are concerns about the lack of trinitarian content in the psalms — but that is another topic!)

Where is Lament?

Lament is present across the scripture but most commonly in the Psalms.

The Laments are the commonest type of psalm. They form about one-third of the Psalter.

Brueggemann writes that every community develops standard verbal forms with which to express its wants, aspirations and anxieties. These forms are the product of the emotions felt; and then, in turn, give a framework within which the community and individuals can comprehend and negotiate the experience of those emotions.

These forms are evident in popular music from negro spirituals through to Soul, Ska, etc.

Lament, as a form, does not expunge the pain or confusion we encounter in life, but it gives a structure through which we can receive and embrace those negative experiences into our individual and common life of faith (Brueggemann, 1995, p.69-70).

Lament is a way by which the relationship between God and his people can accommodate the negative emotions that human beings experience, as well as empowering human beings to transcend their circumstances and to have faith in God.

There are both communal and individual laments.

Individual laments are far more common.

There is a reasonable debate to be had about the merits of communal lament where there is no communal cause for lament.

Where society has experienced a pandemic, war, a financial crash, a systemic social injustice, there are clear grounds for communal lament. But what if the pain we experience is individual?

Should everyone lament over one person’s pain? Maybe 1 Cor. 12, especially verse 26, is helpful:

26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

To this we may bring the additional question of how readily we permit the celebration of success?

  • Let’s say that we want people to tell us in our small groups about their distress at being made unemployed, having a difficult neighbour, going through a divorce, experiencing depression, having impossible demands made on us at work, being ill, etc. Good.
  • However, we should then equally want people to tell us their specific good news such as when they get a pay rise or a bonus, what glowing school reports our children brought home, how that work project was delivered on time and on budget, how the landlord discounted the rent on this new flat we have signed up to rent, etc.

Reflecting on this, I wonder:

  • Is there an excessive sensitivity for those who are suffering that disables our ability to rejoice with those who rejoice?
  • Is there a danger that we esteem and permit only certain kinds of good news?
  • Just as people can feel that the voice of lament is not permitted, it seems likely that the voice of praise is not always welcomed either.

If we believe that there is any danger that people may feel no permission to lament, we should also question to what extent people feel they have no permission to exult about blessings/successes.

In the next post, how lament transports us.

Bibliography:

Bass, D (2001), Foreword, in Reid, S (Ed.), Psalms and Practice: Worship Virtue and Authority, pp.xv-xvii, Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press

Bellinger, W (2001), The Psalms as a Place to Begin for Old Testament Theology, in Reid, S (Ed.), Psalms and Practice: Worship Virtue and Authority, pp.28-39, Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press

Brown, S & Miller, P (2005), Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew and Public Square, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press

Brueggemann, W (1984), The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Augsburg

Brueggemann, W (ed. Miller, P) (1995), The Psalms & The Life of Faith, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Augsburg / Fortress Press

Calvin, J (1999), Commentary on the Psalms Volume 1, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Christian Classics Ethereal Library examined at www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom08.vi.html

Card, M (2005), A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Navpress

Charry, E (2005), May We Trust God and (Still) Lament? in Brown, S & Miller, P (Eds), Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew and Public Square, pp. 95-108, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press

Davis, E (2001), Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cowley Publications

Dawn, M (1995), Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Douglas, J (Ed.) (1962), New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, IVP

Duff, N (2005), Recovering Lamentation as a Practice in the Church in Brown, S & Miller, P (Eds), Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew and Public Square, pp.3-14, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press

Fellingham, D (1995), To the Praise of His Glory: A Radical Approach to Worship and the Worshipper, Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications

Greenslade, P (2003), Songs for All Seasons, Farnham, CWR

Jinkins, M (1998), In the House of the Lord: Inhabiting the Psalms of Lament, Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press

Page, N (2004), And Now Let’s Move Into a Time of Nonsense: Why Worship Songs are Failing the Church, Milton Keynes, Authentic Media

Scazzero, P (2003), The Emotionally Healthy Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan

Stott, J (1990), The Message of Acts, Leicester, IVP

Tanner, B (2001), How Long, Oh Lord? Will Your People Suffer in Silence Forever?, in Reid, S (Ed.), Psalms and Practice: Worship Virtue and Authority, pp.143-152, Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press

Webber, R (1994), Blended Worship: Achieving Substance and Relevance in Worship, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers

 

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