By Jay Risner, Lead Pastor
Tragedy strikes. Details emerge. “Thoughts and prayers” are extended from every direction. Reporting on who or what is responsible for the calamity ensues. Tweets, hot takes, and think pieces abound. Rinse. Repeat.
Have you noticed this pattern?
This is a unique time in history. Our access to real-time, global news reporting and the persistence of a 24 hour news cycle exposes our hearts and minds to an overwhelming amount of destruction, heartache, evil, and pain every day. I believe this front row seat to the world’s endless number of tragedies is way too much for us to process in a healthy way. And because our tendency when tragedy strikes is to follow the herd into searching for blame or motive or even justice we often fail to do one very important thing.
I was struck by this on Monday morning as I watched the news out of Las Vegas. As the cell phone videos from the concert venue emerged and the incessant sound of gunfire rung out through the captured footage the horror of the whole scene struck me. And with that horror a profound sadness struck me as well. Like everyone else I wanted to know more about the person who did this, how he did it, what his motives were, who helped him, but the scenes of the actual event kept me from seeking those answers. The videos connected me to the humanity of it all. These were fellow image bearers and they were under attack. I know not one person at the concert in Las Vegas, but God knows each and everyone of them and to watch as they were so ruthlessly assaulted it made me stop needing more information about the attack and required me to lament.
The Bible is no stranger to lament. The oldest book in the Bible—the Book of Job—is a case study on loss, tragedy, and lament. Additionally, think of the number of Old Testament saints who were consistently expressing sorrow and grief. There is no topic that more dominates the Book of Psalms than lament.
The typical structure found in the Psalms of Lament look like this:
Address. A biblical lament cries out in a particular direction—to God. This is not internally focused grieving or sadness, it is first and foremost a prayer. We cry to an omnipotent God, a good and merciful God, a just God, a God who grants us access to himself and has called us into relationship with him.
Complaint. A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character. The emotional tone of the complaint varies, depending on the type of lament psalm. It may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.
Request. A lament expects a response or an answer. It expects that God will be able to do something about the situation. Most often the request sounds like a demand: it is the psalmist’s essential heart-rending cry, “God, do something!”
Expression of trust. A lament generally includes an explicit expression of trust, sometimes woven through the complaint and request, and other times concluding the psalm with a note of praise. To understand biblical lament properly, acknowledges that the expression of trust, with all its praise and joy, is part of a psalm of lament.
Biblical lament, then, is a sincere cry to a God who is powerful, good, and just—a cry that acknowledges that this situation is not consistent with God’s goodness, but it’s a cry that expects an answer from God, leans on His sovereignty and therefore results in hope, trust, and joy, rather than despair.
And that’s why lamenting is important. If we fail to lament we pave the way for despair. We obsess over the human why’s and how’s of a tragedy without every submitting our confusion and heartache over to the Lord. And with all the tragedy being streamed through our televisions and smartphones everyday we do well to stop asking for more information and take time to lament.