The Bible’s full of angry people. Noah’s mad at his sons, Moses is mad at the Hebrews, and Mrs. Job, after a day of awful luck, tells her husband to “curse God and die.”
Not surprisingly, this anger helped fuel a peculiar type of prayer amongst the people of ancient Israel: the lament. The lament is a formal complaint to God in the hopes that things will get better. Many of the Psalms bristle with rage. It’s not just rage for the sake of rage, though. The point of a lament is to get God’s attention.
Earth to God
One of my professors wants God’s attention. Recently, he recruited several of us theology students to help him organize a whole lament worship service, a bittersweet service that is anything but common in mainstream churches. It’s complaint from start to finish—with a thoroughly depressing eucharist-for-the-lonely smacked in the middle. My professor explained the concept of a lament service by pointing out that church is often a place of forced, false happiness and unfulfilled dreams. Instead of being allowed to moan, parishioners are told to trust God and, then, wished well on their week.
But what of war, depression, and disease? My professor reminded us that, as theology students and faculty, we are not given room to doubt God’s wisdom. This is unhealthy, he suggested. Perhaps we needed to vent.
Which got me thinking. When was the last time I took of list of gripes to God and said, ‘Guess what, buddy, life sucks’? It’s been awhile. Perhaps my time has come.
So, I’ve prepared for the lament service by, well, lamenting. I’ve lit candles, sat down, and asked, “Hey God, what’s with cancer?” And what of pollution, persecution, genocide, and tidal waves?
Did you create smallpox? Chicken pox? Measles? Why malaria? Why ebola? Why ecoli 467?
Why are children molested? Why do rapists rape? Why is the death penalty considered justice? Why is smoking legal?
Why is poverty a blessing? Why is it good to be meek? Why is Barbie a role model for girls? Why can’t boys cry?
Why Iraq? Why now? Why ever? Are you there?
Now, the goal of a good lament is hope. As people of faith, we believe that God hears, listens, and loves. As humans, we tend to doubt, struggle, and yell. Often, I’ve been told that it’s not nice to tell God what to do—or even to suggest that God’s judgment sucks. Which is nonsense. My relationship with God is the most important relationship I have and, like any relationship, it can be tense. A good lament gets the grief out. It reveals my worries. It reminds God—and myself—that, in the end, I know that God can make things right.
My professor knows this. So do the angry people of the Bible. What about yourself? Do you need to gripe? Go ahead. Get God’s attention.