Where are the Laments? by John Frye

Where are the Laments? by John Frye February 7, 2014

This post is by John Frye.

Some pastoral observers grieve the loss of our ability to corporately lament in our with-it, contemporary, high-tech, juke and jive American (evangelical) worship services. Many Christians it seems have no clue that a whole Bible book is titled “Lamentations.” Or, if they do know, they have no clue about why it is in the Bible. If they read it, they probably conclude, “Bummer. What a downer. Can we sing another upbeat, feel good Jesus-loves-me song now?”

I remember teaching some friends the Book of Habakkuk and facilitating discussion of the serious, almost tortuous questions that Habakkuk raises. Habakkuk, the book, has similarities with the lament psalms. I have spun out some personal musings about lament and its place in our life of faith together.

My observation, unscientific, yet extended is this: a submerged, yet vast determinism has eviscerated the Church’s ability to lament. How can this be? This determinism leads ordinary folk to conclude that everything that happens is God’s will. Is it proper to lament God’s will being done? Controlling determinism excises from the church her “bowels of mercies” (KJV). We have lost the guts to lament because why should we? Lament does not do anything and, besides, it appears to be an affront to the will of God in which everything is good because everything is for his glory. Was it St. Augustine who was honest enough to follow the logic of theistic meticulous determinism to its end and to declare that for God there is no such thing as evil? Why lament? Even when we are told that God ordains the means as well as the ends or we should ponder “middle knowledge,” the thoughtful Christian senses the shell game that tries to soften a rigid determinism with these theological word-games.

I once observed a pastor telling a distraught widow to stop crying over the death of her husband. Why? She was ruining her testimony and distracting others from Christian hope. In effect, the pastor was saying, “God is working all things for good, so suck it up.” No lament, no grief allowed. Lament is taboo.

Yet Habakkuk bumps up against the sovereign, if not alarming and confusing purposes of God and he still laments, “How long, O LORD…?” Habakkuk takes God to task and so do many of the psalmists. If we hold a theology that diminishes our ability to experience agonized, broken hearts pierced by the pains of the people on this rebellious and wrecked planet, then we cannot claim to follow the One who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. If our identification with others is intellectual and not visceral, we are handicapped agents of the kingdom of God. When God is merely the all-seeing, unblinking cosmic Stare of classical determinism, our minds may be stimulated, but our hearts will be unbroken and unmoved. We simply will kiss good-bye to lament. These are my musings and I hope I am wrong.


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