Finding Lost Words: The Church’s Right to Lament
Australian College of Theology Monograph Series
The brokenness of this world inevitably invades our lives. But how do you maintain faith when overwhelmed by grief? When prayer goes unanswered? When all you have are questions, not answers? What do you say to God when you know he is in control but the suffering continues unabated? Is there any alternative to remaining speechless in the midst of pain and heartbreak?
This book is about finding words to use when life is hard. These words are not new. They are modes of expression that the church has drawn on in times of grief throughout most of its history. Yet, the church in the West has largely abandoned these words – the psalms of lament. The result is that believers often struggle to know what to do or say when faced with distress, anxiety, and loss. Whether you are in Christian leadership, training for ministry, or simply struggling to reconcile experience with biblical convictions, Finding Lost Words will help you consider how these ancient words can become your own.
G. Geoffrey Harper and Kit Barker
Rachel Ciano, David Cohen, Peter Davis, Nick Freestone, Malcolm Gill, Ian Maddock, Kirk Patston, Andrew Shead, Andrew Sloane, Rob Smith, Alan Thompson, Don West, Sharon Wood and Dan Wu.
Table of Contents:
INTRODUCTION: “Weeping May Endure for a Night”: The Need to Find Lost Words – G. Geoffrey Harper and Kit Barker
PART I: The History of Lament
1. Lament Psalms in the Church: A History of Recent Neglect – Rachel Ciano
2. A Song Once Known: The Use of Psalm by Calvin, Henry, Wesley, and Simeon – Ian J. Maddock
3. “Consolation for the Despairing”: C.H. Spurgeon’s Endorsement of Lament Psalms in Public Worship – Alan J. Thompson
PART II: The Theology of Lament
4. Lament as Divine Discourse: God’s Voice in Our Cry – Kit Barker
5. “Why O Lord?” Lament as a Window to the Human Experience of Distress – David J. Cohen
6. Lament and the Sovereignty of God: Theological Reflections on Psalm 88 – G.Geoffrey Harper
7.Finding Our Words in His: Christology and Lament – Kit Barker
8. The Shape and Function of New Testament Lament – Donald West
9. Man of Sorrows, What a Name! The Place of Lament in the New Testament – David K. Burge
PART III: The Exegesis of Lament
10. The Role of Lament in the Shape of the Psalter – Dan Wu
11. Silence of the Lambs: A Lost Cry of Lament in Psalm 8 – G.Geoffrey Harper
12. Weeping with the Afflicted: The Self-Involving Language of the Laments – Andrew Sloane
13. Baking the Bread of Tears: A Recipe for Translating Psalm 80 – Andrew G. Shead
PART IV: The Practice of Lament
14. Preaching Lament – Peter J. Davis
15. Singing Lament – Robert S. Smith
16. Praying Lament – Malcolm Gill
17. Lament and Pastoral Care – Kirk R. Patston
PART V: The Demonstration of Lament
18. “A Strengthening Song for the Sad Soul”: A Sermon on Psalm 13 – Malcolm J. Gill
19. “My Only Friend – Darkness” : A Sermon on Psalm 88 – G. Geoffrey Harper
20. “How Could We Sing”: A Sermon on Psalm 137 – Kit Barker
21“You Are the God Who Saves Me”: Singing Psalm 88 – Nick Freestone (with reflections from Kit Barker and G. Geoffrey Harper)
22. If Jesus Wept, You Can Too – Sharon Wood
"As the contributors to Finding Lost Words so insightfully point out, the Psalms offer us a robust invitation to express our honest feelings before God. I found this volume utterly compelling and encourage everyone to read this book and let the laments of the Psalms teach you how to pray." – Tremper Longman III, Westmont College
"This book is a work the church needs. Lament is a missing practice in the praying life of too many Christians in a broken world. It needs to be recovered. After all we find it in psalm after psalm. . . . Scripture not only gives us a language for our joys, it also gives us a language for our confusions, disappointments, and even anger towards God. In this work, a constellation of careful thinkers and practitioners serve us so very well. I commend it without reservation." – Graham A. Cole, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
"There is a level of superficiality in the spiritual experience of today's church that needs to be challenged. . . . Finding Lost Words is an excellent set of readable essays dealing with the theology and practice of lament from an exegetical, historical, and pastoral perspective. I don't want to overstate things but, if we really hear the message of this book, it will change the way we do church." – Jamie A. Grant, Highland Theological College UHI
"Like a well-cut diamond, this collection of essays radiates light in many directions, helping readers to see the biblical concept of lament from different perspectives with greater clarity. . . . This timely volume offers a much needed rebalance to Christian theology that often appears to have lost sight of the pain and suffering caused by the reality of evil in our broken world." – T. Desmond Alexander, Union Theological College, Belfast
Review from Regent's Review (April 2018, Editon 9.2)
"The subject of lament and the church’s need to rediscover its lost words of complaint in worship has been gathering momentum in recent years. This book offers an excellent introduction to this emerging subject from both academic and practical perspectives, and succeeds in making recent scholarship accessible to an interested, if pragmatic readership. But this collection of essays also offers a bold and compelling thesis of its own. David Firth establishes this argument in his foreword, claiming that the removal of lament from the worship in the Churches of the West is nothing short of heresy. It is heresy, he claims, because much contemporary worship has colluded with the culture of the in offering an endless diet of positive experiences which subtly suggest that expressions of pain, sorrow or disappointment in worship are acts of unfaith that concede too much about God lacking overall control. Of course he acknowledges that there is a rightful place for praise and thanksgiving when life is well, but insists that if praise exists at the expense of people’s brokenness finding an authentic expression of complaint before God, then such worship denies deep truths about Christ, about individuals and communities. The consistent argument throughout this book is that without honest admissions of such pain there is little opportunity for true Christ-centred healing or liberation.
With so much at stake, it is good that the book manages to achieve a consistency of lucid style and well structured argument across its five main sections. The authors’ desire to connect theory and praxis is ever present without ever feeling contrived, and while every reader will have their favourite chapter, and could easily examine such in isolation, there is a compelling internal trajectory. It begins with three historical essays that record the place and subsequent demise of lament in the Western church before section two grapples with some of the theological issues arising from a reclaiming of lament from the Psalms. The next section unpacks recent scholarship on the Psalter to assist in the exegesis of the scriptures of lament and part four draws these previous academic considerations into the pragmatic challenges of preaching, singing, praying and pastoral care. The final section delivers what is so often absent, but eagerly sought after by interested readers, some ‘worked examples’ of sermons, songs and pastoral experiences that grappled with lament.
In the first section Rachel Ciano reviews the demise of lament and argues that reclaiming these ‘lost words’ is exactly what people of faith should do before a faithful God in the midst of trouble. Ian J Maddock illustrates this affirmation with an examination of how historical figures such as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, John Wesley and Charles Simeon have approached Psalm 77. However, Baptist readers will probably be most taken with Alan J Thompson’s chapter ‘Consolation for the Despairing’ which explores Spurgeon’s endorsement of lament in public worship as a genuine experiences for true believers and his leading congregations in the corporate expression of lament in song.
This takes us to the six essays of the second section all of which grapple with the theological issues raised by psalms of lament. These include chapters that address the impact of speech-act theory to considerations of if, and how Christians are to bring their complaint before God in the light of the resurrection victory of Jesus. At the heart of this section are two essays by David Cohen and Geoff Harper that reiterate a common thread throughout the book, that lament is not an indication of a failing faith but quite the opposite, it is an essential component of a spiritual life that continues to trust in God through the realities of life.
The third section contains four essays that address the challenges of preaching on the psalms, reminding those who stand in the pulpit, that these passages of poetic lament must be read in the overarching contexts of the Psalter as a whole and done with an appreciation of the self-involving nature of these scriptures. Andrew Sloane’s chapter on ‘Weeping with the Afflicted’ in particular examines what happens when as individuals and communities of faith, we place the words of another’s lament upon our lips and reminds us that, ‘while lament may not be our native tongue now, perhaps it once was, and it is certain that at some point it will be’.
While theory and praxis have never been far removed from one another in the preceding chapters it is the fourth part of the book that specifically addresses the challenges of using lament in contemporary congregational life. Peter Davis examines the task of preaching, Malcolm Gill offers insight on how to pray and Kirk Patson reflects on the use of lament in pastoral care. However it is the chapter on singing lament by Robert S. Smith that many will find most helpful. Smith contends that the contemporary church is neither ‘adept nor comfortable with singing lament’ and goes on to examine what been forsaken through this loss of congregational appetite for the darker Psalms. Through an examination of Psalm 137, Smith notes the power of music to augment the emotional reality of words spoken from the heart. He examines how the careful synthesis of words and music enables a gathered people to find consolation for the troubled spirit and unity as a congregation in the face of difficulty. He readdress the potential heresy of churches who do not lament, concluding that such a failure leads congregations into lives of unreality and deprives them of a full knowledge of God of scripture. For any priest or pastor these may well be the chapters which ground the scholarship most closely to their daily life, but it is perhaps a sad omission that there was not a further chapter to be included here, one that examined how the congregations might rediscover lament beyond the immediate borders of the church and in the art, music and literature of contemporary culture.
The fifth and final section continues the pragmatic direction with examples of the use of lament within the life of the church. This includes three full-text sermons on Psalm 13, 88 and 137 and an excellent reflection by Nick Freestone on the song writing process of weaving together the lyrics, music and theology of Psalm 88. As one of only two women contributors to the book, Sharon Wood concludes with a quite personal chapter on lament within the context of pastoral care among women. This proved to be a much needed perspective on the importance of lament amidst the harsh realities of testing times and her words make a fitting conclusion to the book as a whole: ‘We cry and cry out, knowing Jesus did too, In the company of God’s Spirit and his people, we do not groan alone.’
This collection of essays is a compelling argument for the church to rediscover the lost words of lament it has forsaken in recent years. It is not too bold a claim that failure to do so may leave congregations worshipping on the edge of heresy. As such this is a book not only full of wisdom that deserves to be read, but which also urgently needs to be put into practice."
South Wales Baptist College