Written by real people with genuine feelings–often worn closer to the surface than this stoic New Englander might like–the Bible gives voice to a full range of emotions. There is plenty of joy, lots of celebration, and this has found its way into our worship. However, we are less comfortable with the practice of biblical lament:
- David wails his abandonment and anguish of soul;
- Jeremiah mourns the demise of true righteousness and the fall of his nation;
- Hannah’s weeping is so out of control that she attracts the attention of the priest who assumes she is intoxicated.
When believers hurl their complaints God-ward, he responds with compassion. Aubrey Sampson finds in God’s great love evidence that he “doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it. And he invites his hurting people to sing with him.” (11) She describes her own journey of lament, and loss in The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament.
Suffering as an Invitation
The death of a beloved cousin, the ongoing physical challenges of her youngest son, and then, as if to add weakness to the overwhelm, the symptoms of a mysterious illness hang on and intensify, leaving Audrey in continual pain. A counselor challenged her and her husband to lean into the invitation suffering offers, to stop trying to “handle it,” fix it, understand it, or explain it away and, in the presence of the deep loss, to allow, “the unanswerable to remain unanswered while still declaring that suffering will not have the final say.” (11)
The Louder Song is a place where life in the trenches of mothering and ministry meets solid biblical scholarship. A peaceful heart in the face of suffering honors the sovereignty of God while putting his compassionate nature on display. “He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103)
Aubrey accepted God’s invitation and began scribbling the howl of her questions into an ekah journal, a landing place based in the Hebrew word for “how” that echoed the psalmists’ blunt questions: “God, how could you allow this?” Instead of running from her sorrow, she began where she was–with complaint. Like David and Jeremiah and so many other sad singers of the Bible, she found that, while her misery did not dissipate, her complaint mysteriously morphed into praise. Even in dark times in which she found it impossible to be thankful for her circumstances, Aubrey was able to rest in the character of God and to trust his motives.
Go Ahead. Lament.
Romans 5 beats a direct path from suffering to hope, and it travels the route of the testing of our faith. James shares the same map, promising maturity at the end of the road, but this acceptance of God’s invitation to lament is an acknowledgement that God may take us through suffering rather than delivering us from it. Aubrey has been tutored into taking a long view of biblical promises of deliverance:
” So lament your social-media obsessions. Lament your days on the couch. Lament your former glories and all of those what-ifs. God wants them all. He wants every burden, every broken path, every looking back. But then, return your gaze to Jesus.” (103)
This fixed and unflinching gaze to the Savior defines the difference between lament and despair. With no where to look, despair comes (literally) “down from hope” (154), sits down, closes its eyes, and gives up. Lament looks squarely at the evil in the world, at the unchosen, undeserved, unwanted, and unfair and then looks for the God who is nearby and listening. A howl from the heart implies the awareness of a Listener, and lament may be your first stop on the pathway back toward hope.
Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Because of His Great Mercy,
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