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Why don't we lament in church?

June 9, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 130:1-2)

In my preparation for the current sermon series on lament, one reality that I have heard pointed out often by the authors I have read is that anywhere from 30-40% of the Psalms can be classified as laments, while in our modern hymnals or collections of worship songs, the percentage ranges anywhere from 5-15%. Besides seeing this as an interesting discrepancy, what might this reveal about our modern Christianity? I can think of three things:

 1) We are too consumer-driven

Let’s face it – upbeat and celebratory songs are inspiring; songs about suffering and doubt are not. There is a reason that K-Love’s tagline is “positive, encouraging K-Love.” It’s what people (apparently) want to hear. If we can string together five songs about how God is amazing and is going to do incredible things in our life, then we will leave people feeling better than when they came in. And that sells. Lament, on the other hand, does not. The ancient writers of the Psalms were concerned about expressing their honest emotions to God and recounting His mighty deeds; modern record labels are concerned with making profits.

 2) We are uncomfortable with doubt, hard questions and unanswered prayer

The Psalms are full of honest, heart-wrenching questions (“How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” – Psalm 13:1), painful accusations leveled at God (“You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend” – Psalm 88:18), and unfiltered requests of God (“Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked” – Psalm 3:7). Good luck finding such sentiments in the most popular worship songs today. We prefer our worship songs neat and tidy, thank you very much. And we would rather that the doubts, questions, and fears stay out of the sanctuary, lest they disrupt our delicately packaged faith and interrupt our “worship experience.”

 3) We have separated ourselves too much from the suffering of the world

Walter Brueggeman, in his book Peace, contrasts the theology of the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The have-nots develop a theology of suffering and survival, with worship that cries out for deliverance in the language of lament (think of slave songs like “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”). The “haves” develop a theology of celebration, “rejoicing in stability and the durability of a world and social order that have been beneficial to them.”  Lament cries out for justice against the existing injustices of the world, believing that the status quo must be challenged. Consider this: if we are not regularly singing laments, perhaps it is because we are the “haves” who selfishly see much to celebrate, rather than lamenting along with our brothers and sisters who do not have what we have. We would wise to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, “Even if a verse or a psalm is not my own prayer, it is nevertheless a prayer of another member of the community.

We have been blessed today with many incredible songs of celebration. But if we neglect lament, we are missing a large part of what it means to be a worshiper in God’s family.

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