It’s time to use the language of lament in these unprecedented times!
Psalm 13:1-6 (NASB), “1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 And my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. 5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 6 I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
This psalm is a psalm of lament.
Over a third of the Psalms are laments.
In the Bible, we also have a book that is entirely lament. It is called the Lamentations. The book of Lamentations laments the destruction of Jerusalem as people cling to hope in God.
There are many circumstances that make those who are discerning, and not in denial, to cry out, “How long Lord?”
- How long, O Lord, will we have to struggle with this Pandemic?
- How long, O Lord, will we have to deal with systemic racism and social injustice?
- How long, O Lord, will we have to endure a society that no longer respects Christians?
- How long, O Lord, will we have to deal with a culture that is becoming increasingly hopeless and godless?
- How long, O Lord, will we have to live in a world that has no truth?
- How long, O Lord, will we have to live in a culture that calls evil good and good evil?
- How long, O Lord, will we have to live in a world that is being trashed by us?
- How long, O Lord, will we live in the unconscious threat of nuclear destruction?
- How long, O Lord, will you allow your people to suffer these circumstances?
Mark Vroegop, in his powerful book, Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation, defines lament as “the biblical language of empathy and exile, perseverance and protest.” He takes the name of the book from
Romans 12:15 (NASB), “15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Lament is the historic prayer language of processing and expressing grief.
Lament is the historic biblical prayer language of Christians in pain.
Lament has four basics.
First, we turn to God. We turn away from the problem and its intractability to God!
Secondly, we complain about the pain or problem! We’ve been taught not to complain. Yet, complaining acknowledges the pain or problem! What we should be cautioned against is whining. Whining is not only peevish or irritable, it is also repetitive. We think about The Children of Israel in the wilderness. The word that is used is “grumble.” The Children of Israel didn’t grumble about their pain, they grumbled against and blamed God.
The third basic of lament is to ask God for help.
The fourth basic of lament is trust. Lament leads to trust in God!
Lament is the language of trust in God!
In the book, Weep with Me, the author urges Whites to weep with African Americans. Whites have never wept over or lament slavery, Jim Crow, Hyperghettoeization, or PrisonFare. African Americans need to utilize lament to keep hope alive!
Concerning racial reconciliation, the author talks about lament as empathy and suggests a five-step process: 1) love, 2) listen, 3) lament, 4) learn, and 5) leverage. Lament can be a bridge for racial reconciliation. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about lament for us, i.e. African Americans.
Most of America and most of American language is lament-lite. We seldom participate in lament. Of course, the African American community has a history of lament in the Negro Spirituals. Well, we must get back to the language and practice of lament!
Lament is the language of pain and African Americans have endured 401 years of pain in this country. Therefore, lament is appropriate!
Lament is the language of grief. We define grief as the conflicting feelings that come at the change of any normal pattern of behavior. Grief is not conflicting thoughts or idea, but conflicting feelings. Grief “is a complex emotional response to loss” (Perry-Sell). So, while many attempt to process their grief intellectually, I don’t believe grief can be processed without expressing some of the conflicting feelings with the language of lament! When Saul and Jonathan died, David didn’t just grieve over them, he lamented them. The Bible reads in
2 Samuel 1:17-18 (NASB), “17 Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the song of the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.”
But lament is also the language of protest. Lament protests the status quo. Lament protests the evil that is in power. While modern African Americans use anger to protest, we have forgotten the power of lament.
On August 30th, 2020, Doc Rivers, coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, gave an impassioned lament in which he cried, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and the country doesn’t love us back!” That lament seemed to resonate with and capture the attention of many!
Lament is the language of exiles. After 401 years, we are still exiles in America. This is still not our home and we are foreigners in a land that we have helped to build. David asks the question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Yet, we must not forget to sing the laments of our heritage.
Lament is prophetic witness. Lament is prophetic because in complaining about the present it dares to hope that the present will not wipe out future possibilities. Lament is a witness to the social injustice that dares to speak truth to power.
Lament is the language of prayer. Remember: lament is not simply whining about one’s situation or whining about God but is complaining to God. Someone defined prayer as the sincere desire of the heart…uttered or unexpressed. Lament is impassioned complaint to God that carries a petition.
Lament is the language of hope. After the impassioned complaint to God comes a statement or expression of hope in God. This is captured in the fact that the lament is addressed to God. It is, “How long,” but the next statement is “O, Lord!” We complain to God because we believe that He cares, He is able, and He intends to do something about our situation.
Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. Painful prayer should lead directly to God. We complain to someone who can make a difference.
Lament leads to supernatural hope and perseverance when we are tired! Right now, we’re tired and we need the hope and strength of God! We’re tired and we have little or nothing left to give. But, if we don’t continue the struggle, how will anything change. We need God to give us supernatural hope in the face of despair.
We have hope because at the center of our reality is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is a despite, in spite of, or nevertheless in the face of doubt.Tweet
- Yes, we’re tired of physical distancing, but nevertheless, we’re trusting God.
- Yes, we’re tired of racial inequality and social injustice, but nevertheless, we’re trusting God.
- Yes, we’re tired of many circumstances, but nevertheless, we’re trusting God.
So, we cry, “How Long, Oh Lord?” while we still trust in God!
Bishop F. Josephus Johnson, II, better known as Bishop Joey Johnson, is the Organizer and Senior Pastor of The House of the Lord in Akron, Ohio.
Bishop Johnson is a Bible Scholar, counselor, educator, conference speaker, and workshop facilitator.
Bishop Johnson loves to teach Biblical truths and unveil God’s character and His ways.
Pastor Joey is the author of ten books. And one of the contributors to And He Restoreth My Soul, a Resourceful Anthology.
Bishop Johnson and Cathy Johnson have been married for 47 years.
Books Authored by Bishop Johnson: The Church: The Family of Families, God Is Greater Than Family Mess, The Eight Ministries of the Holy Spirit and Study Guide; The Biblical World Through New Glasses; Lord of the Flies: A Leadership Fable; Grief – A Biblical Pathway to God; The God Who Grieves and The Ravages of Rejection; and The Blindness of Biblical Betrayal published July 2019.