I was thinking about the world Lament the other day.
‘Laments’ are one of the oldest forms of poetry, for example the Mesopotamian city laments such as the Lament for Ur. These bear a striking similarity with many of the psalms in our oldest hymn book (pinched from the ancient Hebrews) otherwise known as the book of Psalms. Here are few;
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
Psalm 87/88: 18
And even now that I am old and grey, do not forsake me, O God…
Psalm 70/71: 18
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 33/34: 18
My days are vanishing like smoke … my heart is withered like the grass. I forget to eat my bread…
Psalm 101/102: 3-4
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…
My soul waits for the Lord. More than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 129/130: 1, 6
Around one third of the Book of Psalms is written in the form of poetic lament- a cry to God for help in times of distress- help for individuals, but particularly help for the Nation. And, it is recorded, sometimes he listened. At other times he turned his face and watched his chosen people be destroyed by internal wrongdoing and external invasion.
What can we learn from these Laments? How is it that we tend to ignore them in our readings of the Bible- in our claims on a God who gives good things to we his new Chosen People?
I think we can take the idea that it is OK to cry to God in desperation, in anger, in brokenness- that these are part of all of our human journeys.
I also think that we can not believe that God is any kind of talisman for us to wear against the winds of misfortune. It is not whether hard times come, but how we learn to live with love as we move through them.
Finally I think that our approach to the Bible as a set of heavenly testable propositions is severely challenged by the poetry of lament. If the Bible gives all the answers that we need (as long as we apply the correct theological set of goggles) then how come it is written by people who seemed so bereft of answers themselves?
Many (but not all) the poems of Lament in the book of Psalms take a deliberate turn at their end. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary; in spite of the pain, the defeat, the failure of plans and the death of dreams; in spite of all of this- I will worship. I will put myself in the place of trust.
In Emmanuel. God with us. God in us. God through us and God beyond us calling us on.