To those suffering, expressing laments in community may give permission and language to say things that might otherwise be difficult. Lament, then, engenders healing and intimacy. Instead of pious niceties, community is built on our real-life joys and pain; Lament becomes a means of bearing each other’s burdens, proclaiming we do not suffer alone (Gal 6:2).
4. Praise and Lament Lead Us to Mission
Songs of lament in the Bible and songs of praise are both deeply connected to our place and role in the world. Israel’s prophetic tradition provocatively proclaims God’s abhorrence of praise and adoration that are not also accompanied by acts of justice and compassion (e.g., Amos 6:21-24; Isa 1:12-17, 58). Fundamentally, lament is not just about catharsis or solidarity, but it is a cry to God to establish justice. For Brueggemann, our cry for justice must start directly before God:
A community of faith that negates lament soon concludes that the hard issues of justice are improper questions to pose at the throne, because the throne seems to be only a place of praise. I believe it thus follows that if justice questions are improper questions at the throne … they soon appear to be improper questions in public places, in schools, in hospitals, with the government and eventually in the courts. Justice questions disappear into civility and docility.
Lament then is a kind of corporate intercession where the suffering of the community and of the world is brought before God’s throne. Lament as intercession is already itself an act of compassion and justice which is meant to motivate action both from God and from the community. As intercession, lament validates the pain and suffering of the broken world, directs itself at God and demands “let Your Kingdom come!” (Matt 6:10).
5. Praise and Lament Stand Together
Lament and praise should not be separated; they are actually two sides of the same coin. Praise without lament can lead to a superficial spirituality which does not recognize or take seriously the pain and grief that accompany our journey. Lament without praise can easily lead to self-pity, and eventually unbelief since we never remind ourselves of who God is and what He has done and will accomplish.
As the church struggles to reinvent and rediscover itself, it would do well to remember that one of our primary missions is mediation. Just as God called Israel after the exodus, He still calls the church to be a Kingdom of Priests (Ex 19:6). The church then is called to be priests who mediate between heaven and earth. Lament and praise function together to do exactly this. Together, lament and praise keep the community connected to heaven’s ultimate reality as well as to our lived experience on earth.
Praise brings heaven to earth; lament brings earth before heaven.
Together they express the suffering of the world before God and proclaim that one day we will lament no more! The mourners will indeed be comforted (Matt 5:4).
Brueggemann, Walter. The Psalms and the Life of Faith. Fortress Press, 1995.
Author bio: Ed Gentry has been a lecturer in Biblical studies in various contexts, including at St. Stephen’s University in Canada. He has served as a senior architect in a major software company, as well as being a worship leader and musician in various settings for over 20 years. He and his wife Anne live in Waynesville, NC with their three children.