Psalms of Lament are songs that express grief. These songs, not limited to the Book of Psalms, arose from various challenging situations:
- Sin (Psalm 51)
- Illness (Isaiah 38:9-20)
- Enemies (Psalm 3)
Our hymnals commonly use Psalms:
- “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah!” – Psalm 148
- “Unto Thee O Lord” – Psalm 25
- “The Law of the Lord Is Perfect” – Psalm 19
Yet our hymnals rarely include passages from laments. Why not?
- Israel sang them
- The early Christians sang them (Ephesians 5:19)
- Jesus prayed them (Psalm 22 in Matthew 27:46)
Lament To God Personally
Worship should include not only statements of praise, but also expressions of grief directed personally to God. Notice the direct language of these psalms, questioning - even challenging God- Psalm 22:1-2; 55:1-3; 44:9-26; 142:1-4.
Most of the laments end with a note of hopeful assurance (maybe in view of an answer from God). But not all of them have "happy endings" - see Psalm 88.
Why should we be hesitant to be open with God about our heartaches? Do we think He doesn't know how we feel? God wants us to be honest with Him, and laments like what we find in the Psalms are expressions of honesty before the Lord. As one writer has said, "Church is not supposed to be the happiest place on earth. It is supposed to be the most honest place on earth" (Walter Bruegemann).
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
Lament With God’s People
Many laments were communal, expressing the sorrow of the nation of Israel (Psalm 74:1-3; 79:1-5).
But all psalms were sung in the context of collective worship at the temple. Even the individual psalms of lament were sung in a corporate setting. Notice that the titles of these psalms even include instructions regarding this worship (6:1-3; 54:1-7; 22:1).
The point is that we are not to mourn alone. We are to lament as part of a community. Just by being with each other and singing ancient songs of sorrow, we can find encouragement knowing that others have gone through the same struggles.
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Cor. 12:26
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Rom. 12:15
Lament in God’s Presence
For ancient Israel, worship primarily took place in the temple, which made the temple such a wondrous place to be (Psalm 84:1-12).
Assembly in the temple was intended to put the worshipper in a place where heaven and earth intersected – in the presence of the Lord.
We should not try to hide our dark feelings and emotions from the Lord. That is the most dangerous thing we can do. The safest place to be to work through those emotions is in God's presence! Notice the experience of Asaph in Psalm 73:1-17. Verse 2 - "My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped." Verse 17 - "until I went into the sanctuary of God."
We don’t have a temple…something greater than the temple is here, Christ (Matt. 12:6)! We must lament in the presence of Christ crucified and raised, in whose person heaven and earth intersected.
Notice in the midst of the great testimony to love in Romans 8:31-39 that Paul refers to a lament - cf. 8:36 with Ps. 44:22. Christians don't ignore the cruel realities of living in a cursed world - but they place those laments in the presence of the resurrected Christ, whose victory is our victory.