PROCLAIMING THE REIGN OF CHRIST IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE
b y Stacey Gleddiesm it h
I have never had someone give me a short, sweet “Absolutely!” Yet, as I’ve continued to study and teach biblical lament, I’ve come to realize that a failure to lament in our gathered worship is one of the biggest barriers to authentic faith in our communities. Biblical lament addresses God, calling upon specific aspects of his revealed character. It engages in an honest and emotionally real analysis of a current situation — a situation that does not align with God’s character and his plan for the world. It expects our good, powerful, merciful, just God to respond — recognizing his ability to act even within a seemingly impossible situation — and therefore results in trust and praise through circumstance (not despite it). Michael Jinkins, in his book In the House of the Lord: Inhabiting the Psalms of Lament, identifies the central theme of the entire book of Psalms as “the Lord reigns.” The psalms of lament, then, hold a very special place in the book of Psalms. They affirm the reign of God even in the midst of circumstances that would seem to refute it. They shout “The Lord reigns!” into the teeth of life’s darkest
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moments, proclaiming the already-and-not-yet triumph of a good, powerful, just God in the midst of pain, hunger, sorrow, confusion, oppression, despair, and even death. If we don’t affirm God’s reign in this way individually, then we can never bring our full self to our relationship with God. We have ruled a portion of our lives — the portion that confronts pain — as outside of God’s purview, as inadmissible to our relationship with him.
“ A FAILURE TO LAMENT IN OUR GATHERED
WORSHIP IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST BARRIERS TO AUTHENTIC FAITH IN OUR COMMUNITIES.
hen I teach on the topic of biblical lament I like to ask my class whether lament should be a part of the gathered worship of the church. Inevitably the response is mixed. Some raise hesitant hands to tell me that there is value to lament in the gathered body, that we should do it more often — but that we must be careful with it. Some feel strongly that lament is important for the processing of personal grief, but are unable to see its value in a corporate setting. A few, over the years, have suggested that lament is inappropriate for the Christian life; now that we have the person and work of Christ, we should walk in that joy and limit our prayers to praise.
And if we don’t lament as a congregation? Well, then we promote the idea that our gathered worship is reserved for the happy and well-fed. That those who struggle with sin or grief or sickness or poverty should just stay home. We declare them unwelcome in our midst. (This makes an interesting contrast to Jesus’ declaration that all who do not welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked are, in fact, outside of his kingdom — Matt. 25:41-43.) By failing to lament in our gathered worship, we propagate a circumstantial faith — faith that is dependent on things going well — rather than faith that is dependent on the character and actions of God. And what are we telling the world at our doorstep? That hunger and poverty — so pervasive that they barely make news any more — are fine? That the horrors being perpetrated in Syria, Nigeria, and Ukraine are okay? That environmental degradation is God’s intention for our world? Biblical lament cries out the intention of God in the midst of the desolation of sin, calling his people to action and declaring that this is not all. That there is hope.
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