When I read books on the Psalms written by people like Brueggemann, Longmann, Westermann, etc. and find myself a bit overwhelmed by the wealth of scholarship found there, it is then that, as much as I have learnt so much from them, I remind myself why I started writing this Blog, and that was to share the challenges and blessings I have received in reading and studying the Psalms over the years. So, I will continue to share what I have found helpful in reading their books (and those of others), but will endeavour to also keep coming back to how these psalms have been applied in my life as well as those I have sought to encourage along the way.
At the college where I am on staff we all have the opportunity at times to lead times of worship. When it was my turn, those who knew me and knew that I had been studying the Psalms and in particular the Psalms of Lament were not too surprised when I turned up to lead a time of worshipful lament. My inspiration for this had come from reading a small book called “Sowing in Tears. How to Lament in a Church of Praise” by Paul Bradbury (see references # 22)
I introduced the time with these words:
“I don’t know about you, but I have at times walked into a church service and felt downcast for some reason. Maybe related to my health, family problems, work related issues, some sense of loss, my failures in one area or another, and the list of possible reasons goes on. The last thing I feel like doing on these occasions is facing an enthusiastic worship leader who wants me to ‘forget all my troubles, put them all behind me’ and sing loud, joyful songs of victory, worship and praise to God. Not that this hasn’t also helped lift my mood at times.”
In fact, Brueggemann suggests, speaking specifically of the Western church, that, “It is a curious thing that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented.” He gives a couple of options why this might be the case. He says, “It could be that…[it] is an act of bold defiance in which these psalms [and songs] of order and reliability are flung in the face of disorder…[insisting] that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ…a great evangelical ‘nevertheless’ (as in Hab. 3:18)…It is possible…But at best, this is only partly true. It is my judgement that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life…[coming] not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture.” (see references #2) A challenging thought-provoking statement!
So, I continued, “I don’t want to pretend to be happy in the Lord and sing along just because everyone else is. Deep down, I want to lament, to cry out to God, to ask God what is happening and what he intends doing about it.
I felt that way the week we received an email from Pakistan, where we had worked for 11 years, and heard the news about a tragic accident. A van with two beautiful Christian Pakistani women and 3 children had been involved in a head on collision with a truck. They were all good friends of ours. One of the women died as a result of her injuries. Her daughter and one of her granddaughters were seriously injured. The other two children had minor injuries but all were seriously traumatized by the event. And to make matters even more difficult, they were on their way to see their husband/father/grandfather who was being treated for terminal cancer. We who knew them around the world were shocked. When I rang my daughter she burst into tears at the news of the tragedy. I wasn’t far behind!
How do we pray at such a time? How do we manage our grief? Where is God when such tragedies happen?
Today, I want us to spend the next hour doing something that we probably don’t do enough. We will spend some time considering some Psalms of Lament and hopefully learning why they are in the Bible, and just how much we are missing out on if we don’t avail ourselves of such a rich resource in God’s Word, particularly on occasions like the one I have just described. Then we will apply them, pray them, in relation to events in our own lives or of any one of many sad events occurring in our world at this time.”
Paul Bradbury says:
“..we [in the Western church] have lost the ability to lament…We have lost a critical ability in our language of faith expression to articulate anything of integrity and truth in the context of suffering and tragedy…”
If true, this is, in reality, a tragedy in itself.