There is a collection of ancient Hebrew poems that express confusion, despair, doubt, fear, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress.
The frustration and angst, often, is directed toward God himself.
And these poems make the cut. They get put into the Bible.
They are the Psalms of Lament. Apparently, the Hebrews believed that we could live those feelings and experiences before the face of God.
We live in a world that seems increasingly chaotic and a lot of people are tired of pretending everything is fine. They see the fracture in the universe. They see it out there, and they feel it in their own chests.
Unfortunately, many churches exclusively offer peppy, happy-go-lucky gatherings, convincing those in attendance that cliche God-stuff can be mixed in as an add-on to their life and it will all be fine.
A lot of people buy in. But, a lot of people are not buying it.
Too often, Christians fail to speak into the dark places. Secular voices, however, are attempting to address these issues, and people are listening — a point made so wisely in a recent article. (The title of the article is “In Sweden, Human Darkness is Confronted by the Arts Not the Church: If the church is to survive, it doesn’t need to be nice – it must address the big existential questions of sin and death” Read this!)
TS Eliot wrote,
“Why should men love the Church?…
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.” *
I find it encouraging to know that the Bible offers language, modes of prayer, and worship in our darkest times. We can tell of these unpleasant facts, yes, but we can also offer a way to worship in the midst of them.
The Psalms of Lament are that pathway. We have such a resource to offer people in dark places.
The good news in these Psalms is that Jesus felt those feelings too. From his cross, he cried the cry of one of them, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”
He went into that dark place for you and for me.
I think we need to recover these ancient texts.
Not to necessarily dwell on them exclusively — because life under God’s rule is filled with pure joy and beauty also. We are followers of a resurrected Lord for goodness sake. This means there are all kinds of reasons for hope and joy and celebration.
But we should recover these Psalms and carve a space for them into our rhythms of worship.
We need them to speak for us when we just aren’t sure. Which happens to be a lot of the time…
- T S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 96.