Read "Lament for a Wounded Faith" text version

Edited Speech; 11-17-05, 10:00 AM

"Lament for a Wounded Faith"

Investiture Speech by Robert W. Bell Erskine Theological Seminary November 17, 2005 In the past eleven months, we have witnessed a tsunami, multiple hurricanes, earthquakes, famine, disease, war, terrorist attacks, and now the threat of a pandemic that could kill millions of people right here in the United States. In recent months much energy has been devoted to our country's readiness to face these and other crises, mostly centered around the question: "Is FEMA ready?" The question of our readiness to deal with crisis and hardship is a prudent question to ask. But I want to invite you to consider whether we in the church are ready to face the trials and tribulations that attend to our daily lives and the hardships that are yet to come. In particular I wonder if our worship practices will hold up under the weight of life's burdens and tragedies. Before the last hurricane hit Florida recently, the central question was, "Does FEMA have all the necessary supplies and equipment in its staging areas to be able to respond appropriately to the impending devastation?" In a similar vein, I pose the question of whether the church has all the necessary components of worship that are needed to respond effectively to the tragedies of life? It seems to me that there is a significant weakness in the American church's ability to address the tragedies that affect our lives. That weakness is created in part by the absence of lament in both worship and prayer. When was the last time that you participated in worship in which lament--here understood as voicing one's complaint or anguish to God--was voiced? Scoti Old contends that "America Christianity is dying from a serious case of shallowness. We have to get our worship back in touch with the trials of life. Our eternal optimism is betraying our people just at the time they need the wisdom of the Gospel most." 1 Don Saliers asserts, "Praise and thanksgiving grow empty when the truth about human rage over suffering and injustice is never uttered. --- Christian liturgy without the full range of the Psalms becomes anorexic--starving for honest, emotional range."2 Marva Dawn intones, "At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing `happy songs' in the face of raw reality is doing something different from what the Bible itself does." 3 In research for my doctoral work completed in 1994, I interviewed parents who had lost a child in a tragic death. Most, but not all, exhibited or had experienced anger at God in their sorrow. In nearly every case, the grief-stricken found their beliefs about

Hughes Oliphant Old, personal communication via e-mail, Nov. 9, 2005. See also Old's work, Themes & Variations for a Christian Doxology: Some Thoughts on the Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1992. Olds states (20), "Worship, as we see from such Psalms, is not limited to celebration, nor is it spoiled by tears, as some of our more upbeat contemporaries would tell us." As cited in Clergy Convocation 2001, "Through Hurt, to Hope, and Healing: The Place of Lament in Worship," http://www.theologyandworship.ucaqld.com.au/Convocation01.htm. Accessed 1107-05.

3 2 1

Ibid.

2 God to be lacking in the face of such tremendous loss. I met people whose faith had been wounded, some of them quite severely. But I also discovered that frequently, the church did not know what to do with those who possessed such a wounded faith. A faith so wounded that the typical liturgical offerings of "just come be happy, praise God, and all will be OK," coupled with the church's severe case of P-ADD--pain attention deficit disorder--fell short of fostering the healing that was needed. For some, their anguish and frustration was deepened all the more by a community of faith that seemingly offered no avenue by which such excruciating losses could be addressed. No place was found for their lament, their disappointment with God, their cry of pain, doubt, despair, anger, and, ironically, desperate hope. What are we to make of this reality? Are these just people whose faith is weak? Do they simply need to trust God more? Even if one draws such conclusions, the reality remains that these folks are wounded and oftentimes angry, and the customary means we have in the typical liturgical repertoire, which lacks laments, are not sufficient to lead them through the arduous process of getting from the anguish of point "A" where they are, to the solace of the Gospel at point "B." Regrettably, we often resort simply to prescribing more of what is ineffective in our short-sighted efforts to help. To those who come to the church who, like Job, describe themselves saying, "My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing (Job 30:31, NIV), the church frequently demands that those so oriented sing the joyful songs of Zion, forgetting that those who find themselves in such a strange and difficult place in life, exiled beside the rivers of Babylon, cannot sing songs of joy and praise. Christians often, though perhaps unintentionally, become the tormentors described in Psalm 137, demanding songs of joy, saying to the wounded exiles, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" (137:3). The only language we seem to be able to speak to the wounded is "happy;" but for those whose world suddenly has been turned upside down, and who find themselves thrust into a heretofore unknown and pain-filled country, "happy" language is useless as they attempt to find their way through their anguish and sorrow to the true God. And yet when comparing the Scriptures to what one finds in the church, one discovers that, by and large, the church has overlooked or has removed from its liturgy and faith practices the very element that often provides the means for the person of wounded faith to experience the needed grace of God: the language of lament. To those muted by the sorrows of life, the language of lament may provide the sole means of communicating with God from within a wounded faith. In recent years, more scholars have begun to take note of this missing element in the church's liturgies. Lester Meyer, and our own Bob Glick among others, have noted the absence of lament psalms in worship and in the worship resources commonly used today. For example, an examination of the Lutheran Book of Worship, the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, the Lectionary for Mass, the United Methodist Hymnal, and the Presbyterian Hymnal reveal that, on average, nearly 75% of the 26 to 78 omitted psalms are the psalms of lament. 4 And even when such lament psalms are included, they often have been "editorialized" to remove the lament itself, with the result being, as Michael Jinkins observes, that this "editorial cutting of the `offensively' lamenting and imprecatory

Kathleen D. Billman & Daniel L. Migliore, Rachel's Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope (Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1999), 13.

4

3 sections of certain psalms virtually converts them into truncated hymns of praise with little sense of why the psalmist is praising God in the first place. The predilection of these hymnals is toward praising God for stability and the status quo, rather than bringing to God our struggles, interrogations, outrages, and sorrows." 5 Yet when one considers the Book of Psalms as a whole, more than half of the Psalms include lament, with "the individual's psalm of lament [being] by far the most frequent type found in the Psalms." 6 But somehow, we seem to have concluded, even though worship through lament is found widely represented in the Scriptures, with no prohibition against them, that such language and means of addressing God is improper and unfitting for a person of faith. But such a conclusion cannot be maintained given the witness of Scripture and the very nature of the covenant by which we are brought into relationship with God. Claus Westermann notes: "In the Old Testament there is not a single line which would forbid lamentation or which would express the idea that lamentation had no place in a healthy and good relationship with God. But I also know of no text in the New Testament which would prevent the Christian from lamenting or which would express the idea that faith in Christ excluded lamentation from a person's relationship with God." 7 Darrell Fasching adds that "the covenantal understanding of faith as a dialogue in which the Jew was not only expected to trust and obey God but was also allowed to question (and even to call into question) the behavior of God seems to have disappeared in Christianity. The complex dialectic of faith as trust and questioning came to be reduced in Christianity to a very different understanding of faith as unquestioning trust and obedience." 8 "Even mature Christians," says Jill Hudson, "find that faith may be shaken while trust in God remains. In the wake of trauma, there appears always to be some period, whether intense or mild, of questioning life's meaning and purpose and wondering if the God in whom we've believed has an active role in the world." 9 Another says, "the life of

Michael Jinkins, In the House of the Lord: Inhabiting the Psalms of Lament (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 34. Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content & Message, trans. Ralph D. Gehrke (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1980), 55. Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, trans. Keith R. Crim & Richard N. Soulen (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1981; M. E. Bratcher, 1965), 264. Westermann adds (265): "Only in the paraenetic sections of the New Testament letters does the admonition to bear suffering with patience and humble self-resignation start to gain the upper hand. It would be worthwhile to ascertain how it happened in Western Christendom the lament has been totally excluded from human relationship with God, with the result being that it has completely disappeared from prayer and worship. We must ask whether this exclusion is actually based on the message of the New Testament or whether it is in part attributable to the influence of Greek thought, since it is so thoroughly consistent with the ethic of Stoicism." Darrell J. Fasching, "Faith and Ethics after the Holocaust: What Christians Can Learn from the Jewish Narrative Tradition of Hutzpah," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 27, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 454.

9 8 7 6 5

Jill M. Hudson, Congregational Trauma: Caring, Coping, and Learning (Bethesda, MD: Alban,

1998), 2.

4 faith is an ongoing task of building and rebuilding; questioning is the start of the rebuilding phase for most people."10 Lamenting, then, is a "faith opportunity." 11 Even songwriter Michael Card sees lament as a necessary act of worship. He contends that "lament provides a language for the soul which allows it to navigate through disappointment with God to a place of worship before God." 12 The nature of covenant suggests that in joining in lamenting our neighbors' wounded faith, we possess the compassion needed to direct us to be patient with them in their struggle to recover hope; and in lament God makes available a language for their lips that allows honest expression to Him, that they may be lifted out of their despair on their way to a renewed understanding of, and relationship with, God. As Jinkins reminds us: "When we lament to God we are not simply letting off steam. Lamentation is more than catharsis. We expect God to respond. Yet, at the same time, our lament recognizes that God is sovereign, that God's ways are higher than our ways and God's purposes may remain hidden from us. But somehow this recognition does not lead to resignation." 13 Perhaps one reason we shy away from providing a place for lamenting in our worship and prayers is because lamenting is "messy business." 14 Attending to one's laments is an important part of the sanctification process which, let us be reminded, is "the work of God." 15 For our part, "sanctification is," as Dan Allender defines it, "a lifetime process of surrendering as more and more intense conflicts with God and others expose and dissolve our urgent preoccupation with the self. A lament is a battle cry against God that paradoxically voices a heart of desire and ironic faith in his goodness." 16 But an important caveat or caution needs to be inserted here. Just as the church by and large has neglected the language of lament and seemingly has discouraged or forbidden worshippers to speak that Biblical language, we must be careful to avoid insisting that one SHOULD contend with God when one's faith is wounded. The purpose of focusing upon the lost language of lament is not to press the church to indulge in lamenting simply for the sake of lament. As Allender reminds us:

Kenneth Mitchell & Herbert Anderson, All Our Losses, All Our Griefs, as cited in Jill M. Hudson, Congregational Trauma: Caring, Coping, and Learning (Bethesda, MD: Alban, 1998), 2.

11 10

Walter Brueggemann, "From Hurt to Joy, From Death to Life," Interpretation 28, no. 1 (January

1974), 4. Michael Card, "Lament: Unlocking the Door to Genuine Worship," InTouch Ministries; http://www.intouchministries.org/gen_content/index_627258_39065487.html Accessed 11-07-05.

13 12

Jinkins, 79.

Christine, e-mail response regarding "Reclaiming the Role of `Lament'," March 22, 2004 at http://desertpastor.typepad.com/paradoxology/2004/03/reclaiming_the_.html; accessed 11-07005.

15

14

Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, Question & Answer No. 35.

Dan Allender, "The Hidden Hope in Lament," Mars Hill Review, 1 (1), (1994), 25-38, available on-line at www.leaderu.com/marshill/mhr01/lament1.html; accessed 11-07-05.

16

5 Lament is not an end in itself. There should be no question that God does not want us to sing lament as the staple of our worship, nor should it be our internal hymn of choice. But lament opens the heart to wrestle with a God who knows that sorrow leads to comfort and lament moves to praise as sure as the crucifixion gave way to resurrection." 17 Allender also reminds us that there is a clear distinction between lament and grumbling. a lament [, he says,] is as far from grumbling as a search is from aimless wondering. A grumbler has already reached a conclusion, shut down all desire and postures with questions that are barely concealed accusations. . . . A person who laments may sound like a grumbler--both vocalize anguish, anger, and confusion. But a lament involves even deeper emotion because a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to comprehend the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not to shut down the quest for truth. It is passion to ask, rather than to rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God. 18 There appear to be several reasons for our aversion to using lament in our Christian worship and prayers in America. Belden Lane and others cite the well-being of most Americans as a sociological context that contributes to the absence of lament. Lane asserts: ". . . there is a comfortable triumphalism that too often has characterized the common prayer of enculturated Christianity. . . . Secure in its own distance from suffering, it finds unnecessary any agonized appeal for God's promised redemption. . . . Much of the failure of agonized prayer in Christianity, then, can be attributed to the prosperity and success enjoyed by those praying. Extremity in prayer usually appears in inverse proportion to personal and financial security. - - - - Only from within the immediacy of [that] pain will Christians relearn the power of prayer which yearns and argues with God in the darkness of the night." 19 Another possible reason for the absence of lament is because along with the privilege of lament or complaining to God comes the responsibility to respond to God's reply. I'm not so sure that we really want God to respond to us, especially when our lament arises out of perceived injustice in the world. Two of my favorite contemporary theologians, Frank and Ernest (or was it Ziggy? I'm not sure), articulated this aversion to questioning God in a cartoon a few years ago in which Frank asked Earnest why he did not ask God to do something about the situation. Earnest replied, "Because He might ask me the same question." Our apathy and our affluency appear often as obstacles in our covenantal relationship with God. Contending with God, and He with us, is hard work!

17

Ibid.

Ibid. Similarly, one notes the difference between the Israelites "grumbling in the wilderness" and the lament that seeks truly to know God more fully. Belden C. Lane, "Hutzpa K'Lapei Shamaya: A Christian Response to the Jewish Tradition of Arguing with God," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 23, no. 4 (Fall 1996), 584, 585.

19

18

6 One exception to the effect of affluency in American ecclesiastical life may be observed in some churches among the African-American tradition. But, there exists within the African-American and other faith communities, the possibility that the laments that are voiced may be detached from the acts of God; in other words, that lament is voiced simply because it is part of the tradition to do so, with little or no focus upon the transformative purpose of lament. Ironically, this possibility parallels a phenomenon observed in many contemporary Praise and Worship songs in Christian worship. In his critique of Contemporary Worship Music, Cornelius Plantinga asserts that: what is striking about Praise and Worship songs is that they often detach God's attributes from God's acts. More than half the time it's not at all clear from inside a song why God is so praiseworthy or so worshipable. . . . Instead, "Let's just praise the Lord! Let's just lift our hearts to heaven and praise the Lord!" But detaching the mighty acts of God removes our context, as in the old Saturday Night Live sportcast (sic): "And now today's baseball scores: 2-1; 5-2; 6-2; 4-0." 20 Similarly, in using the language of lament one must guard against the temptation to "just grumble," omitting the specifics of why one is calling God to account. Suffice it to say that when we employ lament in our worship of God, we must be specific as to the reasons for our disappointment and frustration with God because giving the context of our complaints also provides a necessary platform for us to receive God's reply that is specific to our lament. In my conclusion, I will give an example of the role and importance that such specificity of context can play in the proper use of lament. Another danger if lament is allowed to become divorced from the context in life out of which the lament arises, is that lament will deteriorate into simply grumbling, where the dialogical nature of lament is replaced with a monological diatribe that has no interest in what the other party in the covenant, in this case, God, has to say. In examining the theology of the complaint psalms, one scholar contends that "in all these psalms . . . the prayer is not directed only, not even mainly, toward a life of bodily health and social security. Their chief desire is the restoration of their relationship with Yahweh, . . ." 21 And that brings us to another point regarding the loss of lament in our worship and prayers. The primary culprit in the loss of lament in worship and prayer is a theological one. Here, I wish to suggest briefly at least two broad areas where our theology needs to be re-visited in light of Scripture: our theology of worship and the church, and our theology of suffering, prayer, and God's response to them. First, our doctrine of the church. Why is it that our worship is so antiseptic? Why is it that many calls to worship and prayers of invocation admonish the worshipper to leave outside all those things that would distract us from the worship of God? Do not such admonitions

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., "Theological Particularities of Recent Hymnody," The Hymn, 52 (October 2001), 14; available at webapps.calvin.edu/worship/luce/2002/polman_2.php; accessed 11-07-05. Ingvar Floysvik, When God Becomes My Enemy: The Theology of the Complaint Psalms (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1997), 161.

21 20

7 convey that God is not interested in the worshipper's troubles or that He is unable to deal with them? That the sole purpose of worship is to come and sing happy songs to cheer God up? In practice, do we not end up re-defining Jesus' invitation to come to Him with our heavily laden burdens and find rest, to mean: check your baggage, your burdens, at the door, and then come in with a happy smile on your face? In Walter Brueggemann's words, "we are seduced into nondialogical forms of faith, as though we were the only ones there." 22 And yet, the testimony of Scripture and of our own experience is that God compels us, through our burdens, to seek Him out all the more earnestly! Spanish philosopher Miguel De Unamuno offers us an alternative view of the church sanctuary in our worship and in our lives. He writes: I am convinced that we should solve many things if we all went out into the streets and uncovered our griefs, which would perhaps prove to be one sole common grief, and joined together in beweeping them and crying aloud to the heavens and calling upon God. And this, even though God should hear us not; but He would hear us. The chiefest sanctity of a temple is that it is a place to which [people] go to weep in common. 23 Lamenting is about honesty in our worship. Notice how the prophet Jeremiah indicted the religious leaders of his day for proclaiming a status quo that was not true: "Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit," he said. "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. `Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace." (Jer. 6:13b14, NIV) As worship leaders today, do we find ourselves practicing deceit when we insist that people enter worship ignoring their wounds, the turmoil, the lack of peace in their lives? Perhaps our theologies of worship could use some attention in this area. A second area of theology that may need attention is that of our understanding of God and His response to our sufferings. Westermann cites the Pauline emphasis upon the patient bearing of suffering as the reason for the disappearance of lament from Christian life and worship. 24 Proponents of this approach argue that: "one ought not to complain to God, because the `sufferings of this world' take on new significance in light of the cross and the resurrected world to come (Rom 8:18). . . . Complaining of the trials that come in one's life is seen as a refusal to share in the sufferings of Christ (I Pet. 4:1213)." 25 Lane critiques this approach, saying: "This can be distorted into a passive, almost masochistic, acceptance of one's fate--something to be endued with stoic patience--when it is cut off from the eschatological tension that gives it life. It can be used to teach a docile and demeaning subservience, silent in the face of pain. 26

22

Brueggemann, 5.

Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life, trans. J. E. Crawford Flitch (NY: Dover Publications, 1954; orig. edition, London: Macmillan, 1921), 17, as cited in Jinkins, 32-33. Claus Westermann, "The Role of Lament in the Theology of the Old Testament," Interpretation 28, no. 1 (January 1974), 33-34.

25 24

23

Lane, "Hutzpa K'Lapei Shamaya," 583. Ibid.

26

8 In this theological approach, the tension between the "now" and the "then" of future glory is removed in favor of the "then." Yet, as one group of clergy note, "Christians who believe that they must not share their pain and suffering, their struggles and failures with God are denying God's Lordship over that part of their lives." 27 In times of loss and tragedy, we grieve; and while Christ's victory mediates our pain, it does not remove it entirely in the present state. In glory, in heaven, all pain, suffering, tears, and death will be abolished. But, not yet. Not now. And so the need for the language of lament, tempered by the hope that attends the resurrection and the future glory of Christ, remains necessary and helpful to us in our journey through life. To dissolve the tension, the dialectic, between praise and lament by disallowing lament is to remove the very catalyst that often propels the wounded person toward God and to greater, more true praise of God in the end. As Matthew Boulton explains, "For the psalmist, then, `lament' and `praise' are hardly mutually exclusive guestures: rather, they together compose . . . a particular pattern of worship: prior praise broken by lament, which in turn modulates into an eschatological mode of doxology." 28 The `hosanna' of Holy Week is broken by the lament of Good Friday only to be transformed into the halleluyah of Easter. 29 Another frequent response of Christians to the sorrow of others is to admonish the wounded to "have more faith." But as Daniel Simundson cautions: to tell someone to have faith is "to tell them to do something that they cannot do. You can no more order someone to have faith in God than you can order them to stop being depressed or be six inches taller or change the color of their skin." 30 Denise Hopkins adds: "Whether or not we ever have the kind of faith that is able to endure suffering is not something that we can will for ourselves. If it happens, as it finally did with Job . . . , it is a gift from God. . . . That means that, even in suffering, we continue to address our thoughts and feelings toward God (as Job did) and that we be as honest and direct as we can." 31 A closely related area in need of attention in our theology relates to prayer and to what constitutes appropriateness in prayer. Some scholars conclude that "much of the theological tradition of the church has tried to soften or ignore the complaint dimension of these prayers because it has been thought to violate an assumed prayer etiquette." 32

27

Clergy Convocation 2001.

Matthew Boulton, "Forsaking God: A Theological Argument for Christian Lamentation," Scottish Journal of Theology 55, no. 1, (2002), 72. [58-78 incl. p. nos.]

29

28

Theme developed by Boulton; also found in Billman & Migliore, and others.

Daniel Simundson, Faith Under Fire: Biblical Interpretations of Suffering (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1980), 61, as cited in Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, Journey Through the Psalms, revised and expanded (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2002), 118 Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, Journey Through the Psalms, revised and expanded (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2002), 118; emphasis added.

32 31

30

Billman & Migliore, 28.

9 But etiquette in prayer is governed by one's beliefs about God and His nature. As Saliers notes, "what we believe about prayer and what we do in praying are manifestations of what we believe about God." 33 Jinkins asserts: "We cannot expect people's understanding of God to reach higher than their hymn books." 34 Allender affirms that "to sing a lament against God in worship reveals far, far greater trust than to sing a jingle about how happy we are and how much we trust him. . . . Lament cuts through insincerity, strips pretense, and reveals the raw nerve of trust that angrily approaches the throne of grace and then kneels in awed, robust wonder. . . . Lament softens the hardness of false piety or arrogant unbelief, intensifies our search, and puts us before the face of Jesus' inconceivable cry." 35 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in commenting on praying the Psalms, says, "Whoever has begun to pray the Psalter earnestly and regularly, will soon give leave to those other, easy, little prayers of their own because they lack the `power, passion, and fire' to be found in the Psalter." 36 An often overlooked benefit of prayers and liturgies of lament is that lament can serve to disrupt and expose the idols of one's heart. Boulton develops this winnowing character of lament more fully as it applies to our worship, saying: lament works to disrupt and negate an array of idolatrous inclinations that may attend Christian doxology: inclinations to claim divine favor and deliverance as merely accomplished and not also forthcoming, . . inclinations to offer praise and thanksgiving apart from attention to injustice and suffering within and without the worshipping assembly; and so on. 37 The ultimate goal of lamenting before God, then, is, as Lane concludes: not miraculous intervention, but intimacy with God. This is the key to understanding the Hebrew boldness in prayer. So long as it was performed selfconsciously, as a technique guaranteeing a result, it was readily condemned. Only as it engaged the believer in the most intense and loving contest with God could the presumption [to argue with God] be approved. 38

Don Saliers, "Prayer and the Doctrine of God in Contemporary Theology," Interpretation 34 no. 3, (July 1980): 265. See also, Ingvar Floysvik, 23-24.

34 33

Jinkins, 34. Allender, pg. no. not shown in electronic copy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Prayerbook of the Bible, ed. introduction, 147, as cited in Jinkins, 48.

35

36

Boulton, 77. Earlier (76-77), Boulton states: "the dogged turn to the promise involved in lament may be understood as a theological movement of negation, undoing and guarding against undue preoccupation not only with the `possible', but also with divine presence or `divine being', recognizing and confronting the risk that even the throne room, the seat of divine presence, and even Emmanuel, `God with us', may become idols--and perhaps the throne room and Emmanuel most of all. Lament, by witnessing to divine absence and clinging to the divine promise over and above divine presence, disrupts and works against the idolatry of presence, not by denying that presence outright but rather by reconstruing it eschatologically--as both manifest and, crucially, hidden and forthcoming." [58-78 incl. pg nos.] Cf. George M. Schwab, "The Book of Job and Counsel of the Whirlwind," The Journal of Biblical Counseling 17 no. 1 (Fall 1998): 31-43.

38

37

Lane, 581.

10 In conclusion, why is it so important that lament for wounded faith be restored as a rich part of the worship and prayers of the church? First and foremost: because the loving and compassionate God who is slow to anger and rich in grace and mercy invites us to bring our wounds, our doubts, to Him. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28 NIV) "Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you" (Ps. 55:22a). Further, it is in that encounter with God that the wounded person hurls questions about one's suffering to God only ultimately to be led to the cross where God poses the question, "Why did my Son suffer?" And it is there in that intersection of our questions of God and His of us that one is shown the hope of the resurrection that transforms all our sorrows. No, transforms us! For our sorrows may remain the same, yet we do not. It is for this reason that the language of lament must be preserved and practiced as dialogical--us speaking to God, and God to us. And we shall find in the voicing of our lament to God that He bids us see the relation of His Son's suffering to ours. Lament, rightly engaged, always takes us to the cross. As Allender puts it: "Lament has the potential to change a heart. It compels the search, strips the heart of pretense, and forces us to wrestle with God. It opens our eyes to see God's profound hatred of sin and his equally profound love for his people. Lament leads to awe that God has turned his wrath against his son and not those who most deserve his condemnation." 39 At the recent Christian Counselors' world conference, Diane Langberg, told of her work among adult survivors of sexual abuse. Among her counselees was a woman who in her teen years was stripped naked and gang-raped. In addition to the sheer trauma of such an atrocity, the woman felt utterly betrayed and abandoned by God. After some time of working through issues of humiliation, guilt, and shame, the matter of her anger at God, her bitter and anguished cry and her questions of Him, remained unabated. After some time, Langberg prayerfully asked her to reflect on just a phrase, three words actually, from Matthew's account of the passion of Jesus, and, without prescribing what she should get out of the passage (Matt. 27:28a), suggested the woman simply listen, to see if God had anything to say to her. The woman came back the next session exclaiming, `They took His clothes! They took His clothes too! Jesus knows what it was like for me because He suffered too!" From there, at the foot of the cross, she began to see the extent of Jesus' humiliation, dying as One cursed; crucified--"the most degrading kind of execution that could be inflicted on a person." 40 There is no therapeutic replacement for engaging in dialogical lament with God. Lament can lead one to the cross; and the cross always leads one to Jesus, the perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), and the One who, by His wounds, heals us (Is. 53:5 NIV). What more could one ask of the language of lament than that? Thank you.

39

Allender, pg. not shown in electronic copy; emphasis added.

The NIV Study Bible: New International Version, Note on Php. 2:8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 1805.

40

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