The Importance of Lament
The most common type of psalm in the Bible is the psalm of lament. And this is good news!
A psalm of lament in ancient Hebrew is a song of sorrow, in which worshipers pour out their heartbreak and grief to the Lord. One third of the songs in the book of Psalms fits into this category. In the laments we hear the psalmists say things like:
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1)
“You [LORD] have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.” (Ps. 88:18)
“I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.” (Ps. 102:9-10)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” (Ps. 22:1-2)
Why is it good news that so many songs like these appear in the Bible? Well, the book of Psalms is often called the prayer book of the Bible. The psalms teach us to pray. They provide us with a vocabulary for expressing ourselves to God.
So, why is it good news that the lament is the most common type of biblical psalm? Think about it. In inspiring Scripture, God could easily have said, “I am worthy of your praise. Most of my psalms will be songs of worship, because I want you to learn to praise me.” Or he could have said, “You are sinful people. You need to learn to repent. So, most of the psalms will be songs of confession.” It would have been perfectly appropriate for God to approach us this way – we are, in fact, sinful people and he is certainly worthy of praise. We do need to learn to praise him and to confess our sin.
But, isn’t this amazing? By placing psalms of lament throughout the fabric of Scripture, God is essentially saying, “You are my children, and I love you. The most important thing to me is to hear of your sorrow. When you are hurting, when you are heartbroken, when you feel alone and afraid, I want you to know how to share these feelings with me. So, the most common psalms in my Bible will be songs of lament.”
The rock musician Bono, who has made a personal study of the Psalms, wrote, “The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s in his despair that the psalmist really reveals the nature of his special relationship with God.”
This is a special relationship available to all of us. Psalms of lament may show us that God wants to hear our sorrows, but the gospel shows us something even better. Not only does God want to hear our sorrows, but, in Christ, he came to share our sorrows – to make our suffering his own. Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears …” In other words, Jesus often prayed psalms of lament. As Isaiah prophesied, he was “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isa. 53:3).
It is through sharing our sorrow, and carrying it all the way to the cross, that Jesus restores us to a relationship with God, as we place our trust in him. This is a relationship in which we are so assured of God’s unending love for us that we never hesitate to pour out our sorrow to him.
Do you have this kind of relationship with God? It is yours for the receiving. All you need to do is open your heart to Christ.