From the Pulpit:Faith offers solace through lamentations

July 12, 2014 

It’s difficult to watch the news some days and hear about the many troubles of this world. Mass shootings, kidnappings, unemployment, lack of education reform, broken national government and so many other crises dominate the media.

The obvious question is, what do the people who have depended on religion to shield them from the hurt and pain of this world do during troubled times? According to postmodernism, the answer lies in verbal affirmations that facilitate optimistic thinking patterns by steering us away from the negativity of our realities.

Often in our worship experience, we make every attempt to be upbeat and joyful so that we avoid any feelings of gloom and despair. We sing songs that emphasize the goodness of God while overwhelmed by deplorable circumstances.

Although affirmations have great value and our celebration songs can be extremely uplifting during times of grief, in this age of positive thinking we are losing one of our most valuable remedies for pain.

In the scriptures, the answer to life’s challenges was not always positive thinking. Sometimes, it was lamenting -- weeping, sobbing, the impassioned expressions of sorrow and grief.

The psalmists knew its value and would do it whenever they felt the need to release pain. In fact, the largest single category of Psalms consists of the Psalms of Lament.

When hurting, the psalmists let it flow. This expression could occur either privately by an individual or publicly as a corporate demonstration.

We place great stock in the healing power of a good belly laugh but we must also understand that sometimes we may need a deep belly cry to release disappointment, disillusionment and despair.

Why is lamenting necessary? In “The Costly Loss of Lament,” prolific Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggeman explains substituting this expression for praise ultimately results in our becoming “yes people” to the person in authority by speaking positively in order to maintain closeness to power.

Without lament, our genuine covenant interaction is jeopardized because we are rendered voiceless. This is spiritually unhealthy because it undermines faith’s capacity to address the paradoxes of life.

Another reason for lamenting is the need for expression of injustice -- the question of theodicy. In all honesty, sometimes life just ain’t fair and we are paralyzed by the stark reality that bad things do happen to good people.

Our lament allows us to plead our case before God -- a cry that historically has mobilized God to rescue his people. Without this expression, there is no real demand for God to address our vulnerability and maltreatment.

Finally, lamenting is necessary because it is our confession about our God -- who he is and where he is in times of trouble.

Our lament is an outcry that God sees our condition and has the ability to control our circumstances.

Some are fearful of full-throated expressions of grief, but I encourage you to take every care and every emotion to God knowing that your pain is not the end. Remember, every dark cloud of pain has a silver lining of praise because you will always win if you don’t quit.

Elisha A. Hoffman encapsulates this principle:

“I must tell Jesus all of my trials,

I cannot bear these burdens alone;

In my distress he kindly will help me,

He ever loves and cares for his own!”

The Rev. Gail T. Smith is pastor of the Universal Light Christian Center in Macon.

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