Tears Remain [New Poem]

When the flood of words
And surge of shock
Run dry
Tears remain

Could they forever flow
In the dark
In the deep
Detached disintegration?

We are scattered and strewn
In the valley stretching
On and across
A vast expanse of pain

Like bones
Dry, very, very dry
Misplaced and displaced
Disordered in decay

While death seals
What the violent steals
Weeping saints’ tears pool
The only sign of life

Tears and prayers
Mixing and mingling
With faces on the floor
Pressed flat in grief

The sole hope that
They might kindle, assemble
New life and love
If Christ breathes, speaks, weeps

Yet hope is lost
Indeed cut off
While you waited
And we waited

Could we come forth?
Could they come back?
Tears and prayers
Spirit upheld, interceding

Our bitter yet sweet
Reaching out and up
As your tears wash
And hands hold us 

This poem was written after meditating on Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, John 11:1-44, and Hebrews 11 as well as while grieving the awful tragedy that occurred on Monday at the Covenant School in Nashville, TN. Kyrie elision!

Again, much thanks to the folks at Every Moment Holy and the reading and reflection prompts in their 2023 Lenten Journal.

Deep Down Good Things [New Poem]

There is a sorrow
That seems endless
Like a rope
Pulled and pulled

There is a darkness
That stretches out and on
Like a cave
Deeper and deeper

There are foes
That hate and plot
Like wolves
Pursuing, pursuing

There are gods
That promise and shame
Like a warden
Beating on, beating down

How long?

Could sorrow
End and resolve
Like a melody
Perfectly composed?

Could darkness
Sharpen and contrast
Like a portrait
Where light is spilled?

Could foes
Fall to knees
Like one undone
By mercy and grace?

Could gods
Be driven out
Like exposed hucksters
Husk traded for the real, free?

The deep down good things
Will never die
You are loved, still

This poem was written after meditating on Isaiah 42, Psalm 13, Psalm 36, John 9:1-38, and 1 John 1. Again, much thanks to the folks at Every Moment Holy and the reading and reflection prompts in their 2023 Lenten Journal.

The Weight of Dreams [New Poem]

How much do dreams weigh?
Desires of the heart
Ambitions of youth
Fixations of attention

And how much when they die?
Shards of imagination
Fragments of hope
Dust of intention

How heavy they are!
Lifeless loads
Burdens of brokenness
Jars of salt water

We thirst

But what’s the cost?
To lay them down
To account the loss
To grieve what’s gone

Drink deeply

A draught of new dreams
Not from a native stream
But flowing from a vernal source
The One among you still

Collapse lays the ground
Tilled and turned over
Opened and freed
To drink and dream again

This poem was written after meditating on Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 42, and John 4:1-42. Again, much thanks to the folks at Every Moment Holy and the reading and reflection prompts in their 2023 Lenten Journal.

Yet What Fire Burns [New Poem]

This way, not that
Here, not there
Now, not then


My soul pulses
But my body hurts
Always changing
Burning, failing

Slowly fading shadow
Evening’s withering blades
A smoldering wick
I am, fading

Yet what fire burns
But destroys not
Power that swells
Shaping clay containers

Not into what has been
But what will be, soon
Raising up a form
Living unto brighter day


Renew, Renew, Renew


This poem was written after meditating on 2 Kings 5:1-16, Psalm 102, Luke 5:17-26, and 2 Corinthians 4:7-18. Again, much thanks to the folks at Every Moment Holy and the reading and reflection prompts in their 2023 Lenten Journal.

Secret Soil [New Poem]

In the secret soil of the inner being
Wisdom is implanted
It is not a native vine
But only grows by grace

Seeds sown in the humus
Of sin and shame
Watered with blood and hyssop
While God grows clean things

A heart


One that is

Never despised
Offered anew

This poem was birthed out of a Lenten reflection on Psalm 51.

Dust Returning [New Poem]

Dust collects on me
As I am dust returning
Fading as my possessions do
Burning up as yesterday’s logs on the hearth
Swirling as on a windy day
Stinging my eyes in bewildering chaos

I tread on others
As they tread on me
Souls sticking to soles
Lowered and pressed low
Tramping fragments of decay
And death, the Spirit’s life dismembered

But will the wind reanimate?
Bring form in the great scattering?
When conquerors rush on
Entering windows in pursuit?
Yea, remembering our frame, He joins
Us, binding in secret, making whole.

This is a brief poem for Ash Wednesday where I mediate on the themes related to dust and ashes as found in Joel 2, Isaiah 58, Psalm 103, Matthew 6:1-21, and 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10. Much thanks to the folks at Every Moment Holy and the reading and reflection prompts in their 2023 Lenten Journal.

Teaching Justification to Students

I wrote this article for Rooted as a summary and lead up to the workshop I will be teaching at their national conference the end of next week. This year’s conference will be in Kansas City and the theme is: “Living Hope: A Walk Through 1 Peter.” If you’ll be there, I would love to connect!

Learning to Lament — Part 3

This post is the third of three on biblical lament. You can read the first here and the second here. Also, if you’re interested in digging deeper into the topic of lament, I recommend checking out Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop.

An Exposition of Psalms 42-43

Psalms 42-43 are the first two psalms in Book II of the Psalter, which contains Psalms 42-72.  While the two psalms are divided in most Bibles and some think they should remain separate, it seems best to treat these two psalms as one.  Longman concludes that Psalms 42-43 “almost certainly were originally a single poem” due to the repeated refrain (42:5, 11; 43:5), the fact that Psalm 43 is one of the few psalms that lacks a title, and that some of the ancient manuscripts list the psalms as a single poem.[1]  As a result, they will be treated as one composition here.  The poem is an individual lament of one who longs for God and is composed of three movements each ending with the repeated refrain: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Delitzsch summarizes the structure and flow of the poem thus: “thrice [the psalmist’s] pain breaks forth into complaint, and is each time again overcome by the admonitory voice of his higher consciousness… [in which] there is unmistakable progress.”[2] Because of its stirring content and emotional relatability, Kidner calls the poem “one of the most sadly beautiful in the Psalter.”[3]  He goes on to summarize the combined psalm as “the lament of a temple singer exiled in the north near the rising of the Jordan, who longs to be back at God’s house, and turns his longing into resolute faith and hope in God himself.”[4]  As will be demonstrated, this psalm has had a level of popularity and is of great use due to its depiction of the common experience of a believer’s desire for God that is interrupted by distance, persecution, and hardship and that is often squelched by depression.

[1] Longman III, Tremper. Psalms. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 193.

[2] Delitzsch, F. Psalms. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973), 54.

[3] Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 182.

[4] Ibid. 182-183.

The First Movement: 42:1-4

1    As a deer pants for flowing streams,

so pants my soul for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God,

for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God?

3 My tears have been my food

day and night,

while they say to me all the day long,

“Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I would go with the throng

and lead them in procession to the house of God

with glad shouts and songs of praise,

a multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 42:1-4

Beginning in the first movement and continuing throughout the poem, the imagery of water is prevalent.  At the outset, the psalmist compares his soul’s desire for God to a “deer [that] pants for flowing streams.”  This is a powerful simile that demonstrates the author’s desperation, urgency, and vulnerability.  Thirsting in barren places in the Ancient Near East was no laughing matter, but one of life and death.  Kidner notes that the extreme nature of his spiritual quandary “shows itself in the pathetic When? of verse 2, and the emptiness of his landscape is revealed by the onlookers’ taunts in Where? (3).”[1]  Plumer notes three helpful items: 1) the repetition shows the intensity of the desire, 2) the psalmist’s longing is directed towards God – “Piety, which has its seat in the soul, consists much in communion with God, not in rites and forms,” and 3) “the longing for God was increased by the taunts of the ungodly.”[2]  These taunts cause the psalmist to cease eating and instead to give himself to persistent weeping – so much so that he consists his tears to be his “food.”  While finding himself in this situation, he then in verse 4 makes a turn mentally by remembering past, better days of worship at “the house of God” in Jerusalem.  It is here that the hint is given that the author may have been a worship leader or temple musician.  He recounts how he “would go with the throng and lead them in procession… with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.”  While these are positive memories that the psalmist recalls to mind, Longman notes that “such a memory would enhance his emotional pain as he compared his present sadness with past joy.”[3]

[1] Ibid. 183.

[2] Plumer, William S. Psalms. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 495.

[3] Longman III, Psalms, 194.

The First Refrain: 42:5

5    Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my salvation

6 and my God.

Psalm 42:5-6a

At the conclusion of verse 4 the psalmist finds himself longing greatly for God though he is far from home (and the temple), he is persecuted by those around him for his belief in God, and his is sinking in depression.  It is at this point that the first refrain comes in.  Kidner describes the refrain as a “self-communing” since the psalmist directs his questions to his own soul.[1]  There is an inner tension that comes to the forefront in the refrain as a result of all that the psalmist is experiencing and feeling.  In the first refrain, the psalmist makes his first of three complaints.  This initial complaint is concerning the psalmist’s own thoughts and actions.  There is an interplay between what he experiences and what he knows to be true.  Kidner encapsulates the impulse of the refrain well when he writes, “It is an important dialogue between the two aspects of the believer, who is at once a man of convictions and a creature of change.  He is called to live in eternity, his mind is stayed on God; but also in time, where mind and body are under pressures that cannot and should not leave him impassive.”[2]  Longman acknowledges this discord as well and notes how the psalmist “wonders why he is so depressed and then urges himself to hope, to envision a time when his relationship will be restored.”[3]  It is in fact this call to hope that is so powerful about the refrain of the song.  The psalmist, with growing resolution, preaches truth to his own soul in spite of his current experience.

[1] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 184.

[2] Ibid. 184.

[3] Longman III, Psalms, 195.

The Second Movement & Refrain: 42:6-11

6 My soul is cast down within me;

therefore I remember you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,

from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep

at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves

have gone over me.

8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,

and at night his song is with me,

a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God, my rock:

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning

because of the oppression of the enemy?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,

my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me all the day long,

“Where is your God?”

11    Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

Psalm 42:6b-11

The second movement begins with a reprise of the water imagery of the first movement.  However, in this instance, the image of water is that of a foreboding waterfall that threatens and overwhelms the psalmist.  He is likely drawing from his surroundings in the north of Israel as he makes these statements.[1]  Echoed in the language of the “deep” is the formlessness described in Genesis 1:2 and in the language of “breakers” and “waves” overwhelming him is the experience of the Jonah after being cast overboard by the sailors in Jonah 2:3.[2]  Thus, God can be the living water that quenches thirst, but also the devastating and inundating waterfall that brings a form of destruction.  All of these things are called to mind as the psalmist “remembers” God in the land of Hermon and Mizar.  Though overwhelmed by God and His providences, the psalmist continues to assert his faith as is seen in verse 8 as he recalls how “the LORD commands his steadfast love” and how “at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”  God sends His wave and breakers, yet, behind it all, the psalmist grows in assurance that God’s steadfast love is the backdrop for them.

In verses 9-10, however, he makes his second complaint.  Here the complaint pertains to God Himself as the psalmist feels “forgotten” by God and continues in mourning.  Additionally, there is further persecution at the hands of his “adversaries” who again question God’s presence in the life of the psalmist.  The “waves” of God along with suffering at the hands of his peers compounds the feeling of abandonment.  At this low point, the psalmist takes up again the refrain already sang in verse 5.  The refrain again yearns for hope while also expressing the pain of the current experience.  Plumer indicates that the covenant promises of God are in view in the refrain when he writes, “Present appearances were against any hope of a change for the better; enemies were rancorous; his condition was sad and forlorn; but the covenant and its promises stood firm.”[3]  The psalmist grasps for hope in light of God’s covenant with His people.

[1] Delitzsch, Psalms, 59.  

[2] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 184.

[3] Plumer, Psalms, 496.

The Third Movement & Refrain: 43:1-5

1    Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause

against an ungodly people,

from the deceitful and unjust man

deliver me!

2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge;

why have you rejected me?

Why do I go about mourning

because of the oppression of the enemy?

3    Send out your light and your truth;

let them lead me;

let them bring me to your holy hill

and to your dwelling!

4 Then I will go to the altar of God,

to God my exceeding joy,

and I will praise you with the lyre,

O God, my God.

5    Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

Psalm 43

The third and final movement begins with a call for justice or vindication.  The psalmist cries out for God to vindicate him before his ungodly accusers.  This request is reminiscent of Job’s desire in Job 9-10.  In verse 2 there is a dual complaint: one directed at God for rejecting him and the other directed inward again concerning his own mourning soul in light of persecution.  He does not slow down in consideration, but instead make a request of God – that he “send out [His] light and [His] truth and let them lead [him].”  Plumer, reflecting on this verse, takes “light” to refer to “the divine countenance” or “the favorable aspect of providence” and takes “truth” to be that “promised to David, involving the divine faithfulness.”[1]  Light and truth are desired for a return trip to Jerusalem, “to the altar of God,” in order to meet with God intimately and praise God as he had experienced in former times.  Kidner indicates that, due to the wording, in is unsure “whether [the psalmist] looks forward to necessarily a literal homecoming or not.”[2]  Regardless, the psalmist seeks the blessing of renewed intimacy with God as well as His providential, covenantal favor.   At this point, the poem concludes with a third reprise of the refrain of “self-talk,” where hope in God is the goal the psalmist exhorts himself toward.

[1] Ibid. 502.

[2] Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 185.  

Making Application

While there are many applications to be made from this lament, only three will be considered here.  Plumer captures the first lesson when he writes, “True religion consists much more in longing desires for more grace and knowledge, than in being satisfied with that, which we have attained.”  The desire for God expressed in this poem is exemplary in both its existence, but also in the psalmist’s struggle towards its fulfillment.  This reality is consistent with the “already, but not yet” nature of the current age between Christ’s comings, where there is a true experience of the new age but an ever-present longing for the eschatological fullness promised. Secondly, though Christians, having the Holy Spirit indwelling them, are never without the manifest presence of God, they “can certainly experience a sense of God’s absence and a longing for his presence.”[1]  Psalms 42-43 are thus the model prayer for believers who find themselves in this place. Finally, the importance and benefits of corporate worship are emphasized throughout this poem.  Both the vertical aspect of communion with God as well as the horizontal aspect of communing with fellow worshipers is commended and held in its proper high esteem in these psalms.  It is good for believers to savor the benefit they have in regular corporate worship while also soberly remembering and praying for believers who may not have the same privilege due to extenuating or extreme circumstances.

[1] Longman III, Psalms, 197.

Concluding Thoughts

In a world fraught with sin, brokenness, disappointment, and despair, God provides mankind with a language of response. This language is that of biblical lament. It is the sanctified form of poetic complaint prescribed by God for the darker instances of life.  Since lament is of God, it is something that must be steadily learned and practiced by sinful mankind.  Moreover, it is a desperate need for today’s culture, which is growing increasingly dysfunctional in its response to sin and brokenness by even trying overlay sad songs with upbeat pop tunes. 

Ultimately, in the sweep of the entire biblical story, Jesus, in His humanity and humiliation, demonstrated the proper use of lament while at the same, in His divinity and exaltation, ultimately provided the only true answer of hope for those who offer up laments. In Jesus, laments like Psalms 42-43, find their goal, fulfillment, and hope. Because of Jesus, the people of God can continue to offer up laments in response to lamentable circumstances in confident hope of the day when there will be no more reason to lament.  The covenant God is faithful still, even through the shadow of the valley of death.

Learning to Lament — Part 2

This post is the second of three on biblical lament. You can read the first here. Also, if you’re interested in digging deeper into the topic of lament, I recommend checking out Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop.

The Shape of Biblical Lament

While there are many different types of psalms in the Psalter, laments are the most common.  In fact, approximately one-third (nearly fifty) of the psalms are laments.  This may come as a surprise for a collection named tehillim, or “praises”[1]and yet, this aligns with what has already been observed both in the sweep of the biblical narrative as well as the narrative of each person today.  Perhaps, God provided so many laments in the Psalms to correspond to the vast number of lamentable moments in the human experience.  

That being said, it is important to define what a biblical lament psalm is.  Belcher identifies laments as a sub-category of a larger category of “psalms of disorientation” that “deal with seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering, and death…[and] which state the struggles and questions that arise when the wicked prosper and the righteous experience suffering.”[2]  Longman defines lament as “the polar opposite of the hymn on the emotional spectrum” and adds that laments represent “the psalmist’s cry when in great distress he has nowhere to turn but to God.”[3]  Lucas indicates that laments “express the psalmist’s response to God in a situation of need or affliction.”[4]  Finally, Wenham defines a lament psalm as one “in which the writer prays that God will deliver him from some kind of crisis: sometimes his enemies, sometimes defeat in battle, sometimes a life-threatening illness…[where] the psalmist often seems to think that God has deserted him.”[5]  While each lament psalm revolves around some instance of trouble, struggle, or brokenness, nearly all of them move toward confidence in God, hope in God, or praise of God.[6]  In terms of the Psalter as a whole, the overall trajectory is toward praise, as is seen in Psalms 146-150 that close out the collection.[7]  Having defined a lament psalm, there are several other fundamental features.

[1] Wenham, Gordon. The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 43.

[2] Belcher Jr., Richard P. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from All the Psalms. (Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor, 2006), 67.

[3] Longman III, Tremper. How to Read the Psalms. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1988), 26.

[4] Lucas, Ernest C. Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 3.

[5] Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed, 43-44.

[6] The main exception is Psalm 88, which closes without a hopeful resolution.

[7] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 67.

The Structure of Lament

Lament psalms typically contain certain elements that follow a certain pattern.  The elements of a lament psalm are: invocation of God, complaint, petition, call for vengeance, confession of sin, protestation of innocence, a vow to praise, expression of confidence, and exclamation of praise.[1]  Longman condenses this list to seven: invocation, plea to God for help, complaints, confession of sin or an assertion of innocence, curse of enemies (imprecation), confidence in God’s response, and hymn or blessing.[2]  He also mentions that this order is not always strictly followed and that rarely will each of these elements occur in a single lament psalm.  Thus, while there is a standard mood found in lament psalms and a typical structure, there is significant amount of variation in the elements, flow, and occasion for nearly fifty laments found in the Psalter.

[1] Lucas, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature, 3.

[2] Longman III, How to Read the Psalms, 27.

Types of Complaint

Though several of the elements of lament psalms are prominent, the complaint is the most notable since it reveals the occasion for the psalm’s composition and sets the tone for the rest of poem.  Longman notes three different types of complaints found in lament psalms.  First, there is a complaint where “the psalmist may be troubled by his own thoughts and actions.”[1]  This is a complaint dealing with the inner life. Secondly, there is a type where “he may complain about the actions of others against him (the ‘enemies’).” [2] This is a complaint that revolves around outward pressures and relationships with fellow man.  Though there is some scholarly distress about the nature of “the enemies” in lament psalms, particularly in cases when imprecations are utilized, the most helpful view is to embrace the intentional vagueness of the Psalter when it comes to the identity of these foes.  The Psalms were compiled and used for corporate worship and thus were composed in a way to be used in a variety of situations that worshipers might find themselves.  Moreover, it is worth noting that when many laments use the first person “I,” they ought to be read as a representative.[3]  Since the lament psalms were prepared for corporate use, the individual laments may be sung communally. Finally, there is a type of complaint where the psalmist “may be frustrated by God himself.”  This is a divine complaint, which is demonstrated in the book of Job as well. Interestingly, Psalm 42-43, which will be expounded in the final post of this series, contains all three types of these complaints.[4]

[1] Ibid. 26.

[2] Ibid. 26.

[3] Lucas, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature, 4.

[4] For the first type of complaint see Ps. 42:5, 11; Ps. 43:5.  For the second type of complaint see: Ps. 42:3.  For the final type of complaint see: Ps. 42:9.

How Laments Point to Christ

While the lament psalms were written in an original context of distress and though they were also prepared for corporate worship in ancient Israel, they also have application today, particularly in light of Jesus Christ.  Belcher argues throughout The Messiah and the Psalms that each psalm in the Psalter is at the very least indirectly Messianic, in the sense that they find their expression in the person and work of Jesus both in His humiliation and exaltation.  Belcher builds this idea off of Jesus’s comment to His disciples post-resurrection about how “everything written about [Him] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44, emphasis added).  Thus, even the lament psalms point to Christ and find their fullest expression in the light of Christ – either in His person or work, whether in His state of humiliation or exaltation.  Moreover, the only real answers to the complaints found in the laments come from Jesus.  Bonhoeffer captures this reality beautifully when he writes: 

“There are no theoretical answers in the Psalms to all these questions, as there are none in the New Testament.  The only real answer is Jesus Christ.  But this answer is already sought in the Psalms.  It is common to all of them that they cast every difficulty and agony on God: ‘We can no longer bear it, take it from us and bear it yourself, you alone can handle suffering.’ That is the goal of all the lamentation Psalms.  They pray concerning the one who took upon himself our diseases and bore our infirmities, Jesus Christ.  They proclaim Jesus Christ to be the only help in suffering, for in him God is with us.”[1]

In Christ, the lament psalms find their goal and true answer.  Though relief may be incomplete or lacking, Christ, as the believer’s hope and object of faith, provides God’s answer to every complaint – “for all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20).  Jesus fulfilled the lament psalms and even prayed them in His time on earth[2] and the One who experienced grief to the utmost (Isa. 53:3; Matt. 27:25-50; Heb. 4:15).

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1984), 48.

[2] Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed, 46.

Learning to Lament — Part 1

In the next series of posts, I’ll be sharing an essay I wrote several years ago about biblical lament. I recently taught on this subject again and, upon revisiting this essay, thought it would be worth sharing here. That being said, since I wrote this an excellent book on this topic was released by Mark Vroegop entitled Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament. I highly recommend it if you want to delve more into the concept of lament and its usefulness in the Christian life.

Learning to Lament from the Bible

As one becomes a student of the Bible, it is readily apparent that much of the narratives, accounts, and content of the Scriptures revolve around how life is difficult and how things are typically not the way they are supposed to be. Over and over again in God’s Word there are accounts of atrocities, disappointment, acute pain and anguish, suffering as a result of sin, and sometimes suffering for seemingly no reason at all. Brokenness and learning to respond to it is an integral part of the biblical story. In addition to the Bible’s take on the nature of life in the world, one’s own experience in the world serves to confirm the existence of the same tragedies, sorrow, and personal duplicity. The different types of brokenness that the Bible speaks of are found on the nightly news as well as in each person’s own life to some degree. Life is fraught with physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain, isolation, and struggle. The question is not about the reality of this experience, but rather how should one respond to the reality of a fractured human existence and experience.

While modern culture might suggest trying harder, mustering up positive thoughts, or avoiding one’s problems, God suggests a better way.  God teaches humanity the way of lament. Throughout the book of the Psalms as well as in other parts of the Old Testament (i.e. Lamentations, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and several of the minor prophets) and Jesus’s own ministry (i.e. Jesus’s “woes” – Matt. 11:21, 18:7, 23:13-29), the appropriateness of lament is affirmed and a pattern of lament is given.  Lament is not man’s natural response to brokenness, thus it must be learned. Ultimately, when life is not as it should be, the people of God are taught to lament – to bring their complaints before their sovereign, covenant-keeping God and to look to him for deliverance.  This series of blog posts intend to explore the biblical genre of lament as well as expound a psalm of lament, Psalm 42-43[1] to demonstrate the usefulness of lament in a particular instance of personal brokenness.

[1] While these are considered as two psalms in most Bibles, it will be explained shortly why they will be examined as a single psalm.

Why Lament Songs?

As has been briefly mentioned, lament is God’s prescribed response to one’s experience of sin – either one’s own sin or another’s – and one’s experience of a broken, hostile world.  While this point may be agreed upon, the question still remains: does lamenting really do anything?  Furthermore, there is the question: why should one sing or pray a lament? In their book, The Cry of the Soul, counselor Dan Allender and Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman refer to a person’s emotions as “the cry of the soul.”  They continue, “[Our emotions] expose what we are doing with the sorrow of life and in turn reveal what our heart is doing with God.” [1]  In an experience of sin or brokenness, emotions rage like a storm within an individual’s heart.  These emotions, and their expression, are revelatory – showing the character of one’s relationship with God and one’s view of the world.  

Lament is intended to be a healthy, human way to process these emotions while supported by a biblical view of God, life, and God’s covenant promises.  Allender and Longman go on to suggest the Psalms as a channel of godly emotional expression, referring to them as “the voice of the soul.”  The Psalms speak with a variety of voices: a disrupting voice – against one’s denial and depravity, an inviting voice – to personal hurt and to rage, and a revealing voice of God’s heart for His people.[2]  Furthermore, the Psalms, as poetry put to song, “[take a composition] much further into the heart than merely reading it aloud” and actually serves to shape the hearts of those who sing it when paired with faith in God.[3]  Thus, lament songs are a powerful way of expressing the emotions that accompany the darker experiences of life in a broken world.  Lamenting is an essential practice in any day and yet, there are several reasons why it is particularly both unlearned and needed today.

[1] Allender, Dan B., and Tremper Longman III. The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God.(Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994), 13.

[2] Ibid. 13-22.

[3] Collins, C. John. “Always Alleluia: Reclaiming the True Purpose of the Psalms in the Old Testament Context.” In Forgotten Songs:Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship, edited by C. Richard Wells and Ray Van Neste, 17-34. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012), 29.

The Modern Need for Lament

In a fascinating blog post, Christian philosopher, James K.A. Smith exposes why lament is a lost practice in modern culture and why there is a great need for lament, starting with the Church as its worship.  Smith’s reflections on lament begin with his experience of listening to a retuned version of a wildly famous pop album in 2015 – Taylor Swift’s 1989.  Another artist, Ryan Adams, remade Swift’s infectious album with a different sonic approach – one that Smith argues was more honest about the “lyrical world of heartbreak, disappointment, and despair” embedded in Swift’s art.[1]  Ultimately, Smith discovered that “Adams’ cover tells the truth about the music, and thus tells the truth about a sad, broken world by redeploying Swift’s lyrical honesty in a sonic environment that fits.”[2]  What Swift had done, possibly inadvertently, is pair lyrics of lament with hymn-like music.  While her lyrics were honest and true to her experience, the sound wasn’t true.

            Digging deeper, Smith found that what he discovered in Taylor Swift’s sonic dishonesty had applications for Christian worship and living.  He continues:

“We live, you might say, in a major chord culture.  We live in a society that wants even its heartbreaking lyrics delivered in pop medleys that keep us upbeat, tunes we can dance to.  We live for the ‘hook,’ that turn that makes it all OK, that lets us shake it off and distract ourselves to death.  And this cultural penchant for a certain sonic grammar seeps into the church and the church’s worship, so that we want songs and hymns and spiritual songs that do the same…

But then a Ryan Adams comes along and takes you back to lament, and reminds you of all the minor chord moments in the biblical narrative, and invites you into a sonic environment that actually tells the truth about the broken world you live in, and that your neighbors live in…

Worship should be a proclamation that tells the truth, not just lyrically, but sonically.  And that means music that resonates with broken hearts.”[3]

James K.A. Smith’s analysis of Swift & Adams

Smith’s perceptive analysis of both Swift and Adams’ music certainly exposes modern culture’s unfamiliarity with the practice of lament as well as its need for the honest expression that lament provides as poetic and musical form.  Lament is needed for the Church, as forerunners and instructors in lament, to speak honestly about much of the stuff of life – the darker side of the human experience.  People need minor chord music for minor chord moments.  If all of the Church’s poetic and musical expression is major chord, then the Church is lying about a large portion of life and has little to say to the broken hearted.  Lament is not only prescribed by God, but it is also desperately needed today.  That being said, the shape of biblical lament must understood if it is to be properly practiced by the Church and ultimately so that it can provide a voice for moments of pain and brokenness that all inevitably and repeatedly experience in life.

[1] Smith, James K.A. Liturgical Lessons from Ryan Adams’ 1989. September 25, 2015. http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2015/09/liturgical-lessons-from-ryan-adams-1989.html

[2] Ibid.  

[3] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

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