Making Room for Lament

Can you remember the first time you heard about a justice issue? The first time you saw pictures of human trafficking victims or heard statistics regarding poverty, foster care, or slavery? What emotions were stirred up? Were there emotions of anger and fear present? Anger that the world was perhaps worse than you thought, that the enemy was craftier than you realized, or that the goodness of God seemed drastically distant? Who did you direct these emotions to? Did your prayers include that anger and fear to the Lord? Did you feel empowered and free to speak authentically to God about the grave depravity and overwhelming evil in the world?

Through Scripture, God has provided us a language of suffering: lament. Lament means to wail or to mourn; it is seen all throughout Scripture as a vehicle to candidly express feelings such as hurt, anger, or fear to God in a way that says, “Lord, this is not right.” Lament can be both individual and communal as evident particularly in the Psalms, Job, Lamentations, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and Habakkuk. In fact Walter Brueggemann, a leading Old Testament scholar, points out that over one third of the Psalms are Psalms of lament. The laments in Scripture make clear the sheer intensity that those suffering and working to end suffering spoke to the Lord with. Psalm 22:1-2 (NRSV),

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.

2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;

And by night, but I have no rest.”

My God, why does it seem you have forsaken children sold for sex or families trapped in slavery? When will you deliver them? To pray in solidarity with those suffering, to mourn, and to be honest about our anger and fear to the Lord is to lament. The triumphalist nature in our society is a welcomed banner of hope in the justice journey. However, there are times when we need to pray with the same fervor and authenticity we would if our own sister or brother was the victim of that injustice and to give space for those suffering to speak honestly. Yet, to do so requires lament.

Through Scripture, God has provided us a language of suffering: lament

Unfortunately, despite the clear call of lament throughout Scripture, the Church has become particularly unaccustomed to it. Perhaps you have been leery to engage in lament because it feels too audacious to speak to the Lord in such a way, or you struggle to even know how to verbalize the anger regarding the reality of the situation. Or maybe lament feels like a turning away from God, when in fact it is quite the opposite. Lament is not a denial of faith, as Brueggemann states, but in fact it is a prayer of affirmation to God saying that we know this is not how the world is supposed to be and we cry out, waiting for His response.

Lament allows us to more fully engage in the suffering of the world, to kneel down with the cries of those suffering and cry out to God with them. In The Justice Calling, Bethany Hoang writes that, “lament holds in tension all the suffering that seems to make no sense with a determination to believe God is just. Lament draws us near to God when we are tempted to turn away. Lament enables us to keep moving forward with perseverance in the justice calling; it is a way to remain deeply connected to the God who loves us and loves justice even when injustice makes us ask the hardest questions of God.” 

To have freedom to lament to the Lord is a powerful thing, but the unique part of laments throughout Scripture is the structure they frequently reflect. Laments often include an address, a complaint, a petition and a vow of praise. The vow of praise is key in a world without hope, in a world that laments with no promise of relief. As people of the good book, we know the end of the story; therefore we lament, but we lament with hope. Now is the time for the Church to join those who suffer in lamentation, as we “weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).” Though the world is broken, may we commit to being people who work for justice and whose prayers reflect the cries of victims in concert with a powerful vow of praise. For you God are holy and we trust in you to bring justice and restoration to this hurting world.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.

2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;

And by night, but I have no rest.

3 Yet You are holy,

O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.

4 In You our fathers trusted;

They trusted and You delivered them.

5 To You they cried out and were delivered;

In You they trusted and were not disappointed.” 

Psalm 22:1-5 (NRSV)

-Kelsie Doan recently completed an internship at International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C., and is currently pursuing a MA in Intercultural Studies and Children at Risk at Fuller Theological Seminary in Arizona