Psalms of Lament

psalm-13-lament

Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.