I just got back from my first Psalms class tonight. Well, it’s actually the third class session but the first one I was able to attend (Haiti). This semester I decided to take a class on Psalms taught by my pastor, Steve, and his wife Darlene. It’s tough to go from working all day at the church to coming back for a class at night but I really wanted the community and spiritual refreshment. Tonight the topic was Lament Psalms. We studied Psalm 3, a short “shout out” by David when he was on the run from his son, Absalom, after a coup. David cries out for God to save him and slap his enemies (namely, his son) on the cheek. He doesn’t ask for death for his son, whom he still loves — only punishment.
The topic of lamenting always seems to be a controversial one in Christian circles. How’s that? Well, a lament, at its heart, is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It is born out of adverse circumstance and often digs into the very core of human emotion. It is our cries of “why.” Everyone laments. It is one of those common experiences shared by all humanity. We eat, drink, sleep and lament. Plus a few other things. Many of the most famous public laments are in the form of song or poem. I think of Eric Clapton’s famous “Tears in Heaven” about the loss of his son. Or “O Captain! My Captain!” a poem by Walt Whitman about the death of Abraham Lincoln. The world laments. It grieves and mourns. People seek to express the depth of difficulty. Believers do, too. But unlike the world, which cannot find enough optimism to fill a thimble, the believer laments with hope. Hope in God’s salvation. Hope in God’s promises. Hope in God’s character. Simply put: hope in God. This is what separates the believer’s lament from the world’s lament. Hope. Knowledge that this world is not out of control and void of meaning. It may seem wild and out of control, but it’s not. God the Father is still sitting on His throne and God the Holy Spirit is restraining evil. It could be much worse. Completely worse. But He’s restraining it so we might have hope.
Laments are controversial because there is a tendency in some Christian circles to teach that difficulties are a result of personal sin. That a Christian in right relationship with God will not struggle. That laments are unnecessary, nay, are inexcusable, for the believer. For if you were following God fully in the first place, there would be need to lament for life will be fully blessed! The so-called “Prosperity Gospel” fits in this line of thinking. God wants to bless you and remove your difficulties if you’d only do something for Him… That difficulties, grief and sorrow are things we can remove from our lives. But we can’t. And so Christians can righteously lament. After all, our Savior was called the Man of Sorrows. Jesus lamented. On the mountain overlooking Jerusalem (Luke 13:34). And in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33-36). Christians also lament because this world is hard. Reality. Undeniably. Hard. Sorrows and pains happen in life and not always of our own fault. Brokenness is all around us. Sin has affected everything. It will touch every life. Thanks to Adam, it already has. But there is hope in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. And so we lament the current reality while looking forward to the future reality, when sin is crushed and ground into fine powder and then sent into oblivion by the very breath of God. But we still lament.
David is a prime example of lamentation. As is the Son of David.
The lament psalms exist, I believe, not only to teach us great spiritual truth but also to tell us that it is all right to voice your sorrow and heartbreak and brokenness before God. Pour out your soul! Ask the tough questions. But leave room for an Almighty answer. And remember that the world will one day be made new. Brokenness and grief and pain will be impaled at the end of a holy sword to die a most painful death and the King of all Kings will make things right. And all laments will turn into eternal joy.