Photo Credit: Dave Stewart
Laments play a role and are a faithful response of the faithful to God and give the faithful the ability to express frustration or dissatisfaction, while at the same time express their faithfulness towards God. Even though the lament is filled with anguish it turns toward a proclamation of faith. Psalms 13, 22, and 83 are examples of laments.
Psalm 13: How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8 “Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver– let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” 9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. 10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; 17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Psalm 83:O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! 2 Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads. 3 They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect. 4 They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.” 5 They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant– 6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, 7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; 8 Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong-arm of the children of Lot. Selah 9 Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon, 10 who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground. 11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, 12 who said, “Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession.” 13 O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. 14 As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, 15 so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane. 16 Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD. 17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace. 18 Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.
As a people of faith we have been told that “complaining” to God is not a faithful response, as if being honest with God about how feel in our current predicament is an unfaithful act. We have been taught to abandon our right to be upset with a situation and with God. The fact is that God can handle our honesty. It is not until that we can be completely honest with God that we will be completely honest with ourselves. Laments give us a language and opportunity to say, “I am not happy, yet I am still faithful”. Even though filled with anguish, we can turn to a proclamation of faith.
Laments can be communal or individual. They provide comfort while wrestling with events that occur within our faith journey. This is evident in the work by Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again. Kyung wrote about the fight Asian women face in a male-dominated society. She wrote, “To be human for Asian women is to struggle” (Kyung, 39). There are two was to deal with the struggle, also referred to as Han: to accept it or to reject it (Kyung, 42). It is through their own han that Asian women begin to learn about themselves which through their ability to lament gives them knowledge of God (Kyung, 52).
Laments are a personal and communal expression of grief and frustration with God while offering blessing and praise to God Through laments, it is possible to be completely honest with our creator and remain faithful. The lament allows believers to strengthen their faith by giving their burdens back to their creator with praise.