Learning the Language of Lament (Part One)

Have you read the headlines today? I’m certain they are mostly negative. I doubt the headline story was about a faithful husband who put in a good day of work, came home kissed his wife, and had an enjoyable evening with his family. There won’t be a feature story about the stay at home mom who knocked it out of the park homeschooling her kids, engaged in a good Bible study, and got the house in order for company this week.

You won’t read those stories. Of course, you might read a story about how a local pastor was accused of misogyny and gender stereotyping for writing an article and having the husband at work and the wife at home getting the house in order. And that’s because we are trained to spot flaws and try to find things to take swipes at. It couldn’t just be that it’s a reflection of that pastors actual day and that he doesn’t intend to make any comment on gender roles.

I agree with David Murray when he says, “our educational, political, and business culture rewards negativity experts, those who can pick out a single negative in a sea of positive” (Murray, 25). Our culture is bent towards complaining and grumbling. But this is not a new problem. Apparently it was rampant in Paul’s day as well when he encouraged the Philippians to “do all things without complaining and grumbling” because the result would be that they “shine like stars”. The only way you shine by not grumbling is if you are surrounded by grumblers.

It is true, we are trained to find problems when they aren’t there. It is also true that there are truly difficult things we experience. Yet even in these times, we are commanded to not complain or grumble. Grumbling isn’t defined as griping about insignificant stuff. You can be guilty of grumbling about cancer just as you can be guilty of grumbling about gas prices.

Ultimately, we grumble because of our hearts. But I’m convinced we are prone to grumble because it is the only language we know. Because we have not been taught the biblical language of suffering we resort to the language of the world; namely, complaining and grumbling. Yet, God has graciously given us a language we can employ whenever we our days are dark.

This is the language of lament. And as Christopher Wright has said, it is seriously neglected in our churches:

…the language of lament is seriously neglected in the church.  Many Christians seem to feel that somehow it can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy.  There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged, by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have “faith” (as if the moaning psalmists didn’t).  So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are struggling with deep inside.  Going to worship can become an exercise in pretence and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God.  So, in reaction to some appalling disaster or tragedy, rather than cry out our true feelings to God, we prefer other ways of responding to it.  –(Christopher J.H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand, 52)

These are the words God has given us for times when we suffer. If we do not know this language, or fail to use it, we will default to the worlds posture of grumbling and complaining. My goal for the next few days is to teach on the language of lament. I want to help us recover this language within our churches.

To be continued…

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