Lament cannot exist with self-sufficiency. The gospel of self-sufficiency says that I am enough, that I have within me what I need to endure and to fight back. It promises victory to whomever has the willpower to push through. Lament says the opposite: it boldly proclaims my weakness, my anguish, my inability to rescue myself. The lament psalms cling to God for salvation, even when they search wildly for him.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.” Psalm 130:1-2
What can we call the year 2020 if not a year of grief? So much heaviness and turmoil, so much to bring to God in prayer. America is not unique in its suffering; the pandemic has touched all inhabited continents and almost every country. Injustice and violence, which have boiled over in America this year, are a daily part of life for many parts of the world. As I write, an American living in Australia, I feel a strange, weighty sense of solidarity with many people around the world.
Yet, as Soong-Chan Rah explores in his book Prophetic Lament, lament of suffering does not come easily to Western Evangelicals. In a culture that focuses on victory and triumph, we are not used to lamenting. We want our tears to turn to joy — as soon as possible. This discomfort with sorrow and lament, however, is foreign to the Scriptures, as Rah shows throughout Prophetic Lament.
While Rah’s book, formed from a series of expository sermons that he preached, focuses on Lamentations, I’ve been thinking of how Rah’s observations of lament in that book hold true for the laments of the psalms as well. It has helped me appreciate the way that lament as expressed by the psalms shapes us into a cruciform people, the kind of people who follow a savior who is known as “the man of sorrows.”
The arresting, graphic imagery of the psalms of lament do not allow us to sympathize with sorrow in watered-down cliches. In a culture that is convinced that the good life is only and always pleasure, people stare at grief like deer in headlights.