Are Lament and Grief Biblical? Read Psalm 88.

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 while doing much better today, Dr. Parrett continues to recover from his brain injuries. Shortly after the accident his wife wrote 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.

Let us consider the grief and lament of Psalm 88. And let us minister to those who live there constantly.

About Mark Farnham
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Pastoral and Pre-Seminary Majors at Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, PA. Founder and Director, Apologetics for the Church (apologeticsforthechurch.org). PhD in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; ThM in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

6 Responses to Are Lament and Grief Biblical? Read Psalm 88.

  1. Kurt Haufler says:

    Great reminders Mark, Thanks

  2. Richard L. Lindberg says:

    Perhaps the only time we sing such songs is at funerals (if even then). Christians do grieve and lament in private, but church may not offer the opportunity to do it. Christ is victor. How can we grieve. Funerals celebrate the life of the person. They are not funerals in the true sense. So, we neglect grieving. Psalm 88 is one of the downer psalms of Scripture. I sang it the other morning in my devotions. It testifies to real feelings.

  3. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I know from experience what it’s like to sit in Church feeling grief and wonder how others can just say, “rejoice always,” and expect everything to be okay when there is no joy, only sorrow, in my life.

    I think many of our Churches are not safe for grieving people. Though there are many who are willing to show Christ’s love and comfort to those who are hurting, there is still little space for someone who struggles with discouragement or ongoing grief to speak up and ask for help without awkwardness, “pat answers,” or overly helpful people who smother you by trying to make everything better.

  4. Mark Bruffey says:

    The American church seems quite unfamiliar with the Man of Sorrows. A greater concern is whether He is unfamiliar with the American church.

  5. As a Christian who has suffered from depression since my teen years, I can attest that the American Christian church is a tough place to be for someone like me. I also grieve for others who suffer and it’s difficult for me to “enjoy myself” while the world is in turmoil. I fully understand, “I am shut up and cannot get out.” Yes I know that God is in control and that Heaven will be bliss. Yes I trust Him. When you are in that black pit of despair and the voice who seeks to aid you says, “Just cheer up” or “Stop being so negative”, “Let go and let God” the pit gets deeper. I don’t even share my emotional pains to others now because they will most likely be dismissed. Babies aborted, children abused, wives beaten by their “loved ones”, young men and women dying in war, sex slaves, are all things that I cannot just dismiss from my mind. God has given me the Gift of comforting others and I do know how important comforting a crushed soul is. I never take it lightly.
    If I had an open wound on my leg, that all could see, People would say, “What can I do to help you?” My wound is hidden from view and covered up with a smile.
    “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” Because of the Scriptures I am able to Praise our God but I find little relief in church.

  6. Pingback: Grieving psalms | Graigor

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