“They are grieving as if they have no God!”
These were the words of a pastor, describing the reaction of Christians soon after a hotel fire had killed over seventy people – mostly pastors and lay workers – in Manila.
A wife, standing at the graveside of her recently-deceased husband, is commended for ‘being strong’, because she is not weeping.
A Christian asked for prayer for success in an examination which would qualify her for a certain job. Having learned that she has been unsuccessful in the exam, she denied that she had ever sat it. Why? Because she did not want (and probably her church did not want) a ‘negative testimony’ to unanswered prayer.
Truth is, the Christian church is fixated on ‘being positive’. Praise dominates both our singing and our praying. Even with regard to our sin, although we may acknowledge it and confess it, we seldom lament it.
I think it’s fair to say that in healthy Christian experience, praise should predominate. But to exclude lament altogether is not healthy, nor is it biblical. Of the 150 psalms, seven are traditionally designated as ‘psalms of lament’ (44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, 90). And, lest we think that the attitudes and emotions expressed in these psalms belong exclusively to the days before the coming of Christ, let us notice too that they feature quite prominently in the Gospels.
So let’s be a bit more honest without ourselves, with one another, and with our God. Let’s be a bit more open about our regrets and disappointments. And then even our praise itself will ring out with a new joy and freedom.
See Federico G. Villaneuva, ‘Preaching Lament’, in Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching (eds Kent, Kissling & Turner). IVP, 2010.