As you probably already know, and as I’ve already discussed here, the Church is currently going through the season of Lent. Lent takes place in the 40 days leading up to Easter (which is actually technically 46 days), starting with Ash Wednesday. Those who observe Lent, usually people from the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant churches (Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian), are called to acknowledge their sins and the depravity of the world while being reminded of the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Oftentimes observers are compelled to fast from something for the duration of the season. These fasts are meant to remind Christians of our humanity and, therefore, our fragility. It is in our nature to need, to be dependent on something. And when we purge ourselves of those things, we realize how much we have been reliant on them in our lives, and we strive to become more dependent on God instead.
I’ve been trying to do a “rolling fast” this season, where I fast from something different each day, and, so far, I’ve been awful at it. But perhaps that just further shows how reliant I am on these worldly things, and how much I consequently take them for granted. Maybe the Church Fathers actually knew what they were talking about when they created the liturgical calendar all those centuries ago.
Another element that is common with the season of Lent, which I will be focusing these next two blog posts on, is the use of laments in the life of the Christian. In his book, Hurting With God, ACU professor Glenn Pemberton defines lament as “a complex language of complaint, protest, and appeal directed to God.” Ultimately, it involves the heart of the Christian turning to God in all circumstances: the highs and the lows, the “happy’s” and the “crappy’s,” the peaks and the pits.
Through lament, we are able to articulate our struggles and downfalls with God in a healthy and effective way. We can confront him about the all the injustices in the world, big and little. We can confess to God and, perhaps more importantly, to ourselves, that we do not have everything together. Life is hard. Life is unfair. Despite what we were taught in Sunday School, life is not always “Blue Skies and Rainbows.”
Unfortunately, this is something that most of the Western church, specifically evangelical Protestant churches (Baptist, charismatic, more contemporary versions of the aforementioned mainline Protestant churches, etc.), have shied away from more and more over the years. Instead of singing, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, which Jesus quoted on the cross in Matthew 27:46), we sing, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.” Instead of crying out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1), we sing, “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are…”
But that is not life. Reality is more than just unending songs of praise to Jesus; it is divorce, poverty, domestic abuse, pride, greed, and racism. So why do we go to church each Sunday morning pretending like these things don’t exist? Why do we spend six days out of the week going out into a world that is flooded with murder, rape, and destruction, and yet on Sunday spend an hour singing seven slightly different variations of “How Great Is Our God?”
Lament offers a more holistic approach to our faith. It allows us to come to God exactly as we are. Broken. Fallen. In need of a Wonderful Savior, a Good, Good Father, Amazing Grace.
This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with these kinds of worship songs (though I could probably write a book’s worth of material on all the problems I have with most contemporary Christian music), but it is certainly a problem when Christians feel like they cannot bring everything about themselves to God. When they feel like they cannot be wholly authentic with him.
It is truly incredible once one finally realizes how different the language is between the psalms and the songs we sing in church today. According to Dr. Pemberton, the Book of Psalms is 40% lament, while everything else is a combination of songs of praise (28%), thanksgiving (18%) or something else (14%). Not to mention the complaints of the Israelites in the wilderness and in exile (Exodus-Numbers; Jeremiah, Lamentations, etc.), or the book of Job, which is basically just 42 chapters’ worth of complaints. If we line those up with the songs we find in our hymn books, or the things we hear on Christian radio stations, or with what we sing in church, we will definitely hear some nasty dissonance (Cue Jimmy Fallon yelling, “Ew!”).
The point is: the writers of the Bible were not afraid to bring their absolute worst to God. It was, in fact, those who had the most faith that turned to God in these times. They refused to give up on God, even when it seemed like he had given up on them. The same should be the case with Christians today. When we dispel ourselves of the notion that a life of faith is only acknowledging the good, while blatantly ignoring the bad, we can finally move on to a faith that we can turn to when our life is at its darkest. The “slimy pit” (Psalm 40:2) is not always something that we refer to in the past tense, but might very well be a present problem. We need to embrace the language of lament for those very times. And that is what this season of Lent helps us to do.
Thank you for reading. Until next time.