THE PSALMS OF LAMENT, A MODEL OR NOT?

          It is my hope that the title of this essay alone will get you asking some questions. Questions like, “What is a lament?” and “Should we pray like that?” In the following paragraphs it is my hope to explain what a lament is and why it is biblically acceptable to pray them. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a lament is defined this way, “verb intransitive 15th century : to mourn aloud : wail verb transitive: to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often demonstratively :mourn; to regret strongly synonym see deplore; 2lamentnoun 1591 1: a crying out in grief.”[1]
            So in today’s vernacular we would say that “to lament is to fuss with God for our sorrow.” For modern day followers of YWAH it seems almost sacrilegious to think about going to God in prayer and blaming him for anything bad that happens in our lives; but that is exactly what these Psalmists did. The psalms are the best place to learn how to pray, and Logan Jones elaborates on that thought. Jones says, “The psalms teach us how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action and answers. The psalms teach us to bring our hopes, praise and joy to God. They also teach us to bring our pain, fear and sorrow.”[2]
            Something that is very intriguing is while most commentators agree that psalms of lament take up a large portion of the Psalter; it has been hard to find several that agree on which psalms actually deserve to be categorized as lament. Then, after figuring out which psalms belong in this genre there are two broader categories the lament of the people and that of an individual.[3]After reading the material for this week and learning just these basic tenants of a lament psalm it showed me how broadly I have been brushing over things with God. Jones in his article proposes that, “At its core, the lament is witness to a profound faith that takes God seriously and takes the covenantal relationship with God seriously.”[4]The only thing that arises with this train of thought is for a young believer it could become a discouragement or an even greater encouragement depending on the atmosphere of their theological heritage.
            There is a deepening of relationship that takes place when you confront God. As Morpehus said in The Matrix “I’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” This is exactly what praying the psalms of lament do they allow us to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus. Through the lament the psalmist invites each of us deeper into the life of faith.[5]One of the most touching psalms to me was the third psalm, because as Craig Broyles explains, “what is most remarkable about this psalm is the security (esp. vv. 3-6), and assurance (esp. v. 7b) believers can enjoy in the midst of dire threat.”[6]
            Of all the psalms that were covered this week (3, 6-7, 13, 26,44, 79-80) number thirteen has to be one that stands out to me the greatest. The author feels like God has left him alone and is unwilling to provide him with any kind of solace against his problems especially his thoughts. One of the hardest things to accept about this psalm was mentioned by Broyles in reference to the statement, “will you forget me forever.” Broyles says, “As hiding the face” implies a deliberate act, so will you forget me forever may imply the same—in other words, these problems may not have merely slipped God’s mind, God maybe deliberately ignoring them. That is a hard thing to grasp, God ignoring one of his children’s problems. But Isaiah tells us his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways. (Is 55:9)
            In the end we learn to take everything to God because he is ultimately in control and wants to hear from us. By us speaking to him in frank, yet reverent manner there is far more good that will come of it than bad. Build your trust in our almighty God and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.


[1]Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (March 1, 2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 30, 2013)47.
[3]C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2001)136.
[4]Jones, Lament, 49.
[5] Ibid., 49.
[6]Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentay Series- Psalms. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999)51.
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