In the morning, my family has a routine. Our two kids still at home, one middle schooler, one elementary, get ready for school while we are watching the local news. Then at 7am we switch over to CBS for their morning show. A few days ago, we were surprised to hear that CBS fired one of their anchors, Charlie Rose, because of sexual misconduct.
Then a few days after that, we were watching the same program when they reported that NBC had just fired one of the Today Show anchors, Matt Lauer, for the same reason.
It seems like a new allegation and firing occurs every day. That the truth is coming out and people are being held accountable is incredibly important and good. A necessary purging, hopefully leading to deep change in our society.
But on top of the reports of sexual misconduct there have also been mass shootings pretty much every day. In malls, schools, movie theaters, at concerts, in churches.
As we hear about these abusers and tragedies, we can’t help but think that the world is a dark place. We can become despondent, confused. How do we respond to darkness, to tragedy? What should we think and feel? What should we do?
One of the first responses to tragedy that we hear is, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”
Praying for people is good thing. You see it on Facebook, in the news, on the lips of politicians. Prayer rising up out of the ashes of tragedy.
In that sense, “Thoughts and Prayers” is a good thing.
But after one of the recent shootings, the idea of “thoughts and prayers” was called into question. The shooting happened, and almost as soon as the news was reported, people started posting “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook.
But this time that sentiment, which is a good thing, was called into question. Why? Maybe people had reached a point where things had gotten so bad, that they had enough. Maybe some people felt that “thoughts and prayers” was nice, but other action needed to be taken. “Thoughts and prayers” has been called into question many times before, especially when “thoughts and prayers” are uttered by people who could potentially do something to stop or decrease the tragedies, but don’t. And that makes people very upset.
I am going to agree with them today. Other action does need to be taken.
Hear me out. The critique I’ve heard says that “thoughts and prayers” are not enough because something additional needs to happen around gun laws. Lives are so easily cut down by guns, thus motivating the critique of “thoughts and prayers.”
I’m not going to talk about gun laws today. Might be a topic for another time!
Today, though, I am going to agree with the critique of “thoughts and prayers.” I’m going to say that “thoughts and prayers” are good, but not enough. There is another form of prayer that is so often missing.
That prayer is called lament.
Do you ever pray prayers of lament? I rarely do. I hardly even know what lament means. And yet, lament is very much a common kind of prayer in the Bible. There is a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations, for goodness sake! Lament is especially prevalent in the Psalms. One scholar I found claimed that more than 50% of the Psalms are lament.
And yet, I suspect many of us do not know about lament. What is lament?
I suspect that we confuse lament with regret over a bad choice. If something is lamentable, we mostly, I think, mean that we feel someone made a bad choice. A error. The words “lament” and “regret” are related no doubt, but they have different meanings. Regret is when you are upset about a bad choice you made and you wish you could change it. Lament is a bit different. And I think the difference is why we so often have regrets, but we don’t lament.
Lament is defined as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow; mourning.”
We know about this when we mourn the loss of loved ones. But lament takes things further. And that is what we see in these psalms that we will study in Advent.
As I said earlier, when there is a tragedy, we often respond by saying “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Prayer for those going through tragedy is good. I think, though, that we need to add lament to our thoughts and prayers.
Lament is something that we don’t hear about in the face of national tragedy. How is lament different from “thoughts and prayers”?
Andy Crouch in an article in Christianity Today says: “An equally valid and instinctive form of prayer in the face of tragedy is lament, which calls out in anguish to God, asking why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Lament confronts God with his seeming inaction and distance. This is a profound response of faith. Far from being unchristian, it is actually the prayer offered by Jesus himself on the Cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”
So this Advent at Faith Church we are going to learn about lament in the psalms.
In our next post, the first psalm of lament we’ll be studying is Psalm 80.