the baby and the bathwater

December 13, 2007, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lament: to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret

One of the studies I hope to be doing over the next weeks and months is into the whole area of lament, and in particular the extent to which our gathered worship can reflect lament.

Over recent times this issue has been raised in a number of situations which I have been personally involved in. In open letters to worship leaders, some theologians have requested that we sing songs of lament; in seminars I have done at New Wine, I have been asked why we don’t sing more songs of lament; and at some gatherings of songwriters in recent years there has been a spoken intention for us worship leaders to embrace the language in lament more in the songs we write.

And it is abundantly clear to me that lament is part of life. It was part of the life of great biblical characters; it has been part of the life of nations throughout history; and most of us can probably point to seasons in our lives where we have personally lamented because of our own life situations. It seems that lament is part of us living in the ‘now and not yet’ of the kingdom, and will be with us until death, or until Jesus comes again.

Yet despite the clarity we have over the place of lament in life, there seems to be little clarity in how lament should impact our times of corporate worship. In one sense it has to impact it in some shape or measure – if we say that our gathered worship and our lives of worship are inextricably linked then that is an obvious consequence. And of course we have to be able to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ as well as ‘weep with those who weep’.

But if I am honest, at this moment of time I come from a slightly sceptical point of view, in that whereas I want our times of gathered worship to be a place where those are struggling can encounter God, I don’t want to generate, or drive, or manipulate my congregation into that place of lament. And so when I hear the voices of theologians or songwriters insisting on the language and form of lament in gathered worship, I am naturally cautious.

But rather than stay in that place of scepticism, I want to study, I want to seek God’s voice and try and understand. And so every so often on this blog I will return to this subject, and, as ever, your comments and pointers and opinions would be gratefully received.


6 Comments so far
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Thank you for this Neil.

I read this blog late last night, and then this morning, in my Bible reading, I came across this: “You who lead people in worship, lead them in lament.” (Joel 1:13, Message) It seemed worth passing on.

I have no idea how you can do it, though, I’m afraid. I only know that when my own life is being tough, I find it very helpful if the worship in church includes some songs that acknowledge that in this life we frequently have trouble. It goes back to some of the stuff we were discussing in your entry about being real.

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with as a result of reflecting on this.

Comment by Ruth

I just wondered whether the concept of ‘lament’ in worship is very OT or does it feature in the the NT much?

I haven’t done any research but my assumption is that it is more OT…pre Christ’s redemtion…

Comment by Andy

I tend to agree with Andy and see the use of laments (grief, sorrow, mourning) as OT orientated, as people cried out to God through suffering. Through NT and redemption through Jesus (not sure his cry out on the cross counts as a lament but it’s about the only NT ‘lament’ – “why have you forsaken me?”) we have salvation and therefore no need of laments. We are saved. Surely in worship, we are praising?

Comment by Christopher

Lamentations is still Christian Scripture though isn’t it… even if it’s not our song in Christ the pain of being under wrath is something its good for us to taste a bit of, to add gravity to our gladness, to add depth to our devotions, to increase our appreciation of the horrors of the cross and let our salvation shine all the brighter.

Barry Webb’s ‘Five Festal Garments’ has been a huge help to me in considering this area.

Comment by thebluefish

Thanks for the comments! My responses are more in the form of questions rather than any suggestion that I have the definitive answers:

I totally understand that we need to view the old testament through the lense of the new testament. But I would be wary of the ‘it’s not in the new testament so it’s not appropriate any more’ line of approach. We could, after all, say the same about worship leaders! In fact, in the new testament there is very little on any aspect of gathered worship – including lament. I guess the way forward on this would be to look at the aspects of lament in the OT and ask the question ‘why would Jesus’ life death and resurrection change this’? I think that will be one thing worth doing at some point soon….

I am also finding it hard to believe that in any way God wishes hard times on us ‘to make us appreciate what is good’. This may be a consequence, but I’m not sure that our pain and suffering emanates directly from the heart of God. (or as someone once said – God may let us walk off the edge of a cliff, but he wouldn’t push us off himself).

Christmas break is coming to a close…so I hope to be back with some more posts soon!

Comment by Neil Bennetts

Surely Romans 8 would indicate that we know lament in one way more than those under wrath, precisely because we have the Spirit. We who know the first fruits of redemption, the down-payment, groan all the more as we long for the final redemption of our bodies, long for when creation will be redeemed and we will be revealed in glory. That’s not a lament that’s at odds with rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and being thankful in all circumstances; but it’s still a lament. A lot of the songs of lament in the psalter seem to be an OT version of that now&not yet tension of God’s promises and character, and the reality we experience – if anything, it becomes greater and clearer in the NT, not less.

Comment by étrangère

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