Lament: Proclaiming the Reign of Christ in Every Circumstance

Recently, Columbia Bible College published their Spring 2015 of “Columbia Contact,” their bi-annual magazine. The focus of the issue is faith in the midst of suffering and pain. On page 7 is an article I wrote entitled “Lament: Proclaiming the Reign of Christ in Every Circumstance” in which I discuss why we need lament in our gathered worship, and how biblical lament can be implemented in a way that reflects reality while also revealing real hope and joy.Lament article

A few excerpts:

If we don’t lament in our congregations…

“we promote the idea that our gathered worship is reserved for the happy and well-fed. That those who struggle with sin or grief or poverty should just stay home. We declare them unwelcome in our midst. (This makes an interesting contrast to Jesus’ declaration that all who do not welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked are, in fact, outside of his kingdom–Matt. 25:41-43.) By failing to lament in our gathered worship, we propagate a circumstantial faith–faith that is dependent on things going well–rather than faith that is dependent on the character and actions of God.”


“Thankfully, implementation of biblical lament is easier than it might seem. Sometimes, lament will be a simple expression of trust in the midst of an honest expression of circumstance…. Lament might be as simple as praying “I don’t know” in a circumstance that doesn’t make sense when considered alongside the goodness of God and his promises of love and mercy. Because I don’t have to have the answers, not to eh big ‘whys.’ What answer can I give my friend who recently lost a child? What answer can I give to those living with constant fear? There is, sometimes, very little to be said. What is needed, instead, is the ability to climb down into that dark corner and whisper with them, ‘I don’t know why. But I do know that God is good. I know that he loves you. And I will sit with you here in the dark until we start to see that light.'”

To read the full article, which explores the implications of lament for our world, as well as further ideas for implementation in our gathered worship–and to read other great articles in this publication–follow this link.

Gardener God

 Reprinted with permission from Regent College: The Regent World, Spring 2010, Volume 22, Number 2.
While I now have a yard and a garden to enjoy (no longer am I limited to four square feet of balcony!), I was reminded of this article as I placed trays of seeds out on my window sills a few weeks ago. I still feel “winterish” in my soul – but there is always the promise of spring.

In my prairie farm home, spring always began with foil trays of potting soil lined up on our window sills. When green shoots of tomatoes, marigolds and geraniums began to poke above the surface, I knew that spring thaw couldn’t be too far away.

After last frost, my mother would sit down at the kitchen table and draw a map of the garden. With packets of seed scattered across the table rows of peas, beans, and carrots, plots of zucchini and corn would sprout from her pencil across the page. We would enact her map later that week: unrolling lengths of string and tracing straight rows along them, filling trenches with water, dropping seeds in and covering them over; taking bright green seedlings out of their foil trays and sinking them deep in the soil of flower beds and garden plots.

Perhaps it is because of this family history that I am fascinated by the Genesis 2 description of God as gardener: “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (vv. 8-9). The LORD God planted—not spoke into being, but planted—got down on his hands and knees and dropped seeds into trenches in the earth, waited for them to grow.

Not only does God plant a garden, but he plants humanity within that garden (v. 8)—and gives humanity its first task: “to work [the garden] and take care of it” (v. 15). As image-bearers of our gardener God, we are charged with the responsibility of tending the earth.

This is a responsibility I took for granted when I lived on my father’s farm, worked in my mother’s garden. Now that I live in the city, with only a small balcony to connect me to the outdoors, I feel disconnected from the origins of food, experience few consequences of my actions in nature. When my garbage is swept neatly away every week, what does it matter how much of it I produce? When I buy my food in plastic trays and bags at the grocery store, what does it matter if it doesn’t rain? I have become seduced by convenience: throwing out what could be saved; expecting fruits and vegetables to be readily available, regardless of season; accumulating unneeded possessions that gather dust on my shelves before being consigned to some far-removed rubbish heap.

When the prophets pick up on the image of God as gardener, they give it a different twist. Israelis described as a well-watered garden under God’s hand (Nm 24:6-7, Is 58:11, Jer 31:12), or, when in rebellion against God, as a desert or wilderness, untended and unproductive (Is 5:1-7, Is 51:3). Living in cities, removed from the earth that sustains us, we struggle not only to fulfill our task as image-bearers of a gardener God, but also to understand the work of a gardener God in our lives, to understand ourselves as garden: as pruned, weeded, watered, as weathering the seasons.

For four years now, I have felt locked under a blanket of snow, barely surviving through a very long winter. Spring may still be months, or even years, away. The temptation is to despair. Instead, I cling to this image of God as gardener: God drawing out garden rows, in the midst of winter; filling foil trays with potting soil; setting them on the window sill and watching, with me, for the day that green shoots will begin to appear.

In the meantime, in my city apartment, I try to remind myself in as many ways as possible of this gardener God, to remind myself of my image-bearing role as gardener. I grow tomatoes, chives, rosemary and thyme on my balcony, and alfalfa and bean sprouts on my kitchen counter. I sort my garbage and haul recycling and compost inconveniently to recycling sites in the city. And, every year, before the last frost has left the ground—while it is still winter—I plant seeds in foil trays and set them out on my window sills.

Joy Is Not the Opposite of Pain

Have you ever wondered what the opposite of pain is? If you type the question in to the wonderful world of Google, you will read a variety of answers including: pleasure, getting high, bliss, good health, wellbeing, and joy. I’m not going to harp on most of these definitions, but I do want to query the idea that opposite of pain is joy – not because it is likely driven by the Rob Base song “Joy and Pain” (sunshine and rain), but because I think this idea sets up two different concepts as opposites: lament and praise.

While lament seems to be a difficult concept for the modern church, it was a common Hebrew expression of faith. We see this in the proliferation of lament psalms used in Hebrew worship.  Most modern psalters and hymnbooks, however, use only pieces of these psalms. The tendency is to neglect the honest portrayal of pain, confusion, and struggle in favour of what is all too often called the “praise resolution.”

Psalms of lament generally have four parts (they can be broken down further, but these are the basic components): an address, in which the author names the person he is speaking to; the complaint, in which the author honestly, and often vividly, describes his painful circumstance; a request, in which the author asks for specific assistance from the person whom he is addressing; and an expression of trust, in which the author states his confidence in the one he addresses. What we so often do is skip over the more difficult bits, chop off the “expression of trust,” and use that as a song of praise.

This approach, however, does not really result in praise. The psalmist reaches that “expression of trust” through his circumstances – whether or not they are changed. When we divorce praise from the real contexts in which we live, we foster a weak, circumstance-based, superstitious religion in which our praise is dependent on whether or not things are going well. That is a façade – not a faith.

Allow me to use a personal example. I am currently, as mentioned in a previous post, struggling with the possibility of infertility. Viewing lament and praise as opposites would lead me to believe that because I am currently in a state of lament, I am therefore unable to praise. Viewing praise as part of lament, however, allows me to lay my soul bare before God (i.e. yell at him for a while), and also to rest in my confidence in his goodness and power. If I didn’t believe that praise is a part of lament, I would fall in one of two directions: I would sink into despair; or I would feel unable to express the depth of my anguish, and end up wearing a mask. Instead, my lament draws me into the presence of God (because that is who I am addressing); it allows me to express the full extent of my suffering; it prompts me to ask God to change my circumstance, knowing that he is able to do so; and it allows me to push past my circumstance and into praise as I focus instead on the character of God, and his presence in my life. My heart breaks at the thought of not being able to bear a child – but no matter what happens, I know that God is good. I know he will help me to work out my calling toward motherhood in one way or another. That is the basis of my praise: not whether or not he does what I want him to do. And I could not honestly reach that place of praise, unless it was an integral part of the lament my heart is currently singing.

So no, praise and lament are not opposites. And neither are joy and pain. No, the opposite of pain is comfort. We are not called, as Christians, to live a comfortable life. Not in this world – not if we are called to participate in the transformation and redemption that Christ began and finished and will finish. We are not called to a life of comfort, a life free from pain, but we are called to a life of joy. We are called to a life of deep painful joy in which we see the truth of God’s character alongside the suffering of the world.