In his book, Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, author Glenn Pemberton says that lament makes up 40% of all psalms. Let that sink in for just a moment. Why is it then, that we, the church, seem to downplay lament? Why do our hymnbooks and modern praise and worship songs include so few words of lament?
I’m a huge fan of author and professor Soong-Chan Rah. His work on the next Evangelicalism and cultural intelligence is profound. In his book, Prophetic Lament, Rah relates our avoidance of lament to what he calls our “culture of triumphalism.” We Americans love success. We love celebration. We celebrate the healthy, wealthy and wise. We honor the victors. And because we focus on the triumphs, there is little, if any, room for lament.
The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 teens and staff were slaughtered and over a dozen more injured, has sadly, opened our country to lament.
April Yamasaki, in her review of Prophetic Lament, organizes Rah’s work into several reasons we need lament. We need lament because it acknowledges the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain. We need lament because in our world of quick and easy answers to complex issues, it acknowledges the complexities of life. We need lament as a correction to our over-emphasis on triumphalism. We need lament as an act of protest that allows us to express our indignation and outrage about the experience of suffering.
True biblical lament, as pictured in the Psalms and other First Testament writings, doesn’t leave us down in the dumps. Yamasaki writes, “In a cultural context that upholds triumph and victory but fails to engage with suffering, praise replaces lament. We skip the important step of lament and offer supplication in a contextual vacuum.” Biblical lament serves the purpose of providing a necessary step toward praise. In that way, lament and praise go hand in hand. As Pemberton writes, “To only have a theology of celebration at the cost of the theology of suffering is incomplete. The intersection of the two threads provides the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message.”