It seems that in the American evangelical world, we know very little about lament. We much prefer the happy sayings and the happy songs. We like things to be tied up nicely and neatly. We prefer our theology to be bite-sized; slogans that fit easily on a tee-shirt or a bumper sticker are best. We particularly dislike any display of discouragement or depression on a Sunday morning. Each Lord’s Day, we ask the hurting among us to “pull themselves together” and rise with us to sing “songs of faith” in praise to the Lord. We muzzle the mouths of the downcast. After all, we reason, we are called to “rejoice always.” But Scripture tells us also to “weep with those who weep.” For, after all, there is much in our world that calls for lament.
Returning to that ancient hymnal, the Hebrew Psalter, will help us greatly in this regard. Psalm 88, for example, is affirmed by nearly all to be the “darkest” of the Psalms. It begins with a barely smoldering wick, and it’s all downhill from there. To many evangelicals, the psalm would seem nearly unsingable for a person of faith. One commentator I read stated that, in light of the resurrection of Christ, Psalm 88 represents a “theological impossibility” for the Christian! Certainly it seems difficult to add our “Amen” to its conclusion. Yet this song is a Holy Spirit inspired prayer for those seasons of the soul when all seems lost. And, as difficult and discouraged as its language is, the entire psalm is addressed to the “Lord God of my salvation.” On any given Sunday, surely, there are folks in our gatherings who feel something like the psalmist did as he penned these desperate pleas. But we often give no voice to the cries of their hearts. Just as significant, on any given Sunday there is pain all over our world, pain that we should duly note, and even join ourselves to, rather than simply ignore or wish away.
Written by Gary Parrett, Professor of Educational Ministries and Worship, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Parrett wrote these comments on Psalm 88 in his journal. On July 3, 2010 a bus in which he was riding drove off a bridge and plunged 30 feet to the road below in Seoul, South Korea. A Korean-American pastor accompanying Dr. Parrett was killed, and Dr. Parrett has been in a coma since the accident. His wife writes these words:
Gary often preached about and lamented over the fact that in our churches we do not sing songs that speak of hopelessness and despair, even though that pain is felt by so many members of the church. We only sing victorious songs and want to ignore the pain and despair that some of us feel. In the hallway of the ICU, I realize how much this feeling of despair and desparation is a part of living as a human, and I think of Gary’s commentary on Psalm 88.
Please pray for Dr. Parrett!