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Without Lament We Lie About God

Ellil's headstoneA father, oldest daughter lying in a cemetery a few miles from the church, stands with arms raised and sings ragged, “Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering…blessed be Your name. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say ‘Lord, blessed be Your name.’”

How many times have you exulted over how something worked out just right and said, “God is so good”?

It is easy to praise God when life is good.

We don’t struggle at all to thank God for success-as-we-define-it. And it’s easy for those don’t love God to explain it away as hard work or good luck or “of course Christians thank God for good things.”

What do you say when everything falls apart? When it doesn’t work out and the bills are high and the child doesn’t come home and the test result is “malignant” and the thieves get away with your valuables, do you still say, “God is so good”?

Not so easy. Maybe even impossible. How could that dad sing, and actually mean those words, without the Helper, the Holy Spirit?

I wrote last week how we need songs for days when  we come face to face with our own failures and with the brokenness of the people we live with and the world we live in. When life is spinning out of control and the hits just keep coming, happy-clappy songs often seem to deny the painful reality of life.

Nothing-Bad-Happens teaching has power — faith-destroying power.

Happy-clappy songs can be so damaging because they can lead us to believe that God promises easy life and happy endings. The worst songs (and the teaching that goes with them) imply that even to name the bad things makes them true and gives them power over us.

God does promise a happy ending, but it often comes after our death. God never promises ease and comfort and happy endings here, now, in this life. Quite the opposite. God promises trouble and pain. (“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33) But He also promises to be there with us because He, in Jesus, has walked through every painful experience of life already.

Do you see how this can shipwreck someone’s faith? If you tell me God gets me out of every trouble, and then He doesn’t, I will naturally conclude that God has broken his promise, that He is not trustworthy. Telling me not to name my pain gives it the power to destroy my faith.

For who will worship and obey a God who breaks His promises?

Lament is critical in the life of every believer because lament tells the truth.

Lament admits the existence of the very real evil in the world, even in the life of Christians.

Lament does not stick a trite band-aid on the stub of an arm, pat the person on the head, and say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” And it most certainly doesn’t say “this isn’t real” and walk away, leaving someone bleeding to death. Lament wraps a tourniquet around the wound and cradles the injured as it defiantly cries, “Your arm is gone, it is awful, but our God is a healer and He is good!

The young man has told so many lies he can’t remember the truth or see where to begin to make things right. He came to his friend’s home Bible study desperate but fearful of being judged and condemned by real “good” people. He looks at the song sheet and tears blue the words as he reads “We are the broken, You are the healer, Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save…”

Lament allows us to acknowledge that we sin, hurt others, and suffer the consequences of our failures the rest of our lives. Lament gives real hope as it points to a God who works in and through sinners, and whose plans cannot be ruined by any sin or catastrophe. We can say with Habakkuk:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habbakuk 3:16-18)

Lament gives solid footing in chaos

In lament we cling to the hope that one day God will overcome the evil in the world. He will make everything wrong right again, heal all the wounds, wipe the tears off our faces, and wash away all our sins and the hurt we’ve inflicted on others.

A first-time mom slips into the early service before hurrying down to the hospital where her prematurely-born newborn is clinging to life in an intensive care unit. The hymn that morning is “It Is Well,” and all she can do is whisper the words as tears stream down her face. “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” (A song written by a man who lost his wife and daughters in a shipwreck… “sorrows like sea billows…”)

While people can explain away our praise of God in good times, they cannot explain it away when we praise God in the midst of pain and failure. They cannot wrap their minds around a bereaved father blessing God’s name after his daughter dies or a mother’s peace at the bedside of her preemie or a sinner’s relief in the forgiveness of God.

When we lament, we demonstrate that God’s claims to be trustworthy and forgiving and merciful and love are true enough and strong enough to cling to even after our lives explode. Lament gives us the words to worship God in the aftermath of our own failures, out of the ashes of crumbled dreams, through the pain of illness and injury and tragedy.

The woman holding on for life,
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what’s been done,
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

-Amy Grant, “Better Than a Hallelujah”  from the album “Somewhere Down the Road”

Where do you find words for your laments? Will you share in the comments?

***

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Comments

  1. Chele says:

    Oh my… you took the words right out of my mouth, again. I honestly don’t believe I’ve dealt with the feelings from being diagnosed with cancer. Main reason is because of being told “it could be worse”, “with God there is no fear” and so on. To put it bluntly, I feel like I’m wrong for fearing, for being scared to death that it will come back full force… Now I’m in tears, I really need to deal with this. From other Christians words to me, I feel like I’m not good enough anyhow to deal with this my way… with God and me. Because I cannot NOT be fearful… I am, period. Oh girl… I need prayers! But I love you for writing like this! Thank you!
    Chele recently posted..Taking A Look BackMy Profile

    • Joy says:

      I am praying for you, friend. God doesn’t want you to be afraid, but He knows you are and He loves you in that. Sometimes I like to think of him like a father in the swimming pool under the diving board, encouraging me not to be afraid and go ahead and jump off because he’ll keep me from drowning (even if I do go underwater for a bit). He knows I’m afraid, he knows I don’t need to be afraid, and he loves me for who I am in the moment.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for daring to question the American easy believism. I believe this is the reason many will have love that grows cold in the end when the events Jesus talked about in Matthew 24 take place…they will be offended at this God who is so different than the one we have created according to our own understanding.
    Elizabeth recently posted..Thrift store finds- yummy banana bread recipe and I try out a “french-y” texture…My Profile

    • Joy says:

      I think you are right, and it makes me both grieve for these people who grow cold and tremble for the ones who led them astray.

  3. Amy Nabors says:

    I think my deepest times of worship come during the songs of lament that we sing. Those are the times I sense God’s presence the most and more powerfully. That feeling He is right there holding me.
    Amy Nabors recently posted..Counting the GiftsMy Profile

  4. Stephanie says:

    Matthew 5:4 – Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. We are called to be like Christ. Isaiah 53:3 tells us he was a man of sorrows, and acquatinted with grief. We, as Christians, will definitely face sorrows and troubles. I have meditated on Psalm 42 when I couldn’t lift myself out of my sorrows. They gave me hope. That is all we have right? Hope in Christ who will wipe every last tear from our eyes. I love you Joy!

    • Stephanie says:

      P.S. you are a very talented writer. God has blessed you with this for his glory. Would you be this gifted without your suffering? I always wonder that about gifts given by God.

      • Joy says:

        I think you have a point, Steph. I think that one way God redeems good out of pain is through the way that pain equips us to reach out to others in ways that actually help. I would know so much less of God’s faithfulness in suffering and would have so much less to offer friends who are in pain if all our children had been healthy and if Elli was still with us. It is a gift I never would have asked for, but I’m finally seeing the gift in it.

  5. Marcia says:

    Faithful One
    (Brian Doerksen)

    Faithful One so unchanging
    Ageless One You’re my rock of peace
    Lord of all I depend on You
    I call out to You, again and again
    I call out to You, again and again

    You are my rock in times of trouble
    You lift me up when I fall down
    All through the storm
    Your love is the anchor
    My hope is in You alone

    This song was the only one I could sing as I wept over my critically ill new born son in NICU. Over and over the words came, a mere whisper amoung the many, many tears. The words did not take away the suffering, they merely reminded me no matter the height of the fall, nor the fierceness of the storm, Christ is my anchor and hope.

    Twelve years later they are the same words that come to me as weep over his struggles with Cerebral Palsy, dyslexia, hearing impairment, and feeling different. I remind him that Christ is his anchor and hope as well.

    • Joy says:

      That is one of those songs that I often have to just listen to and pray in my head because I can’t choke out the words. Thank you for posting it, Marcia.

  6. Oh friend … such truth in these words. Beautiful, hard, ugly truth. God is good … not because of what happens to us … because He is. Period. So hard to wrap our minds around this, around Job’s words, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” So often we’re like Job’s wife, “Curse God and die,” or his friends, “Admit your sin!”

    Thank you for putting into words a truth I’ve been trying to explain for several weeks now. Cannot wait until October to hug your neck!
    Teri Lynne Underwood recently posted..Top Ten Must Have Items for 5th Grade Field TripsMy Profile

    • Joy says:

      The older I get the more I appreciate the book of Job, and the harder I pray that God gives me His words to comfort the suffering lest my own, albeit well-meaning, come out like Job’s wife or friends.

      I can’t wait to see you in October too!

  7. i always come back to lamentations and the psalms for truth and honest struggle/searching.

    read a piece at sojourners today i bet you’d appreciate:
    http://blog.sojo.net/2011/05/17/worship-songs-for-a-new-generation-hold-on-to-love/
    suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} recently posted..rest for the restlessMy Profile

    • Joy says:

      Thank you for the link, Suzannah. Nice to know others have challenged songwriters to move away from the “Jesus and me” songs to explore more of God and living in a broken world. Lamentations and Psalms are such gifts, aren’t they?

  8. Mike says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, Joy. Thanks for giving words to what a lot of us feel unqualified or afraid to say.

    Hymns are such a great help in dark times. I think it’s interesting how many hymns were written by people with intense darkness in their lives. One of my favorites, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” was written by a guy in the middle of deep despair. I also love the one you quoted, and my favorite hymn is “How Firm a Foundation”:

    When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
    For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
    And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

    Mike recently posted..The Marble Slab Part 1My Profile

    • Joy says:

      Yes, there is such richness and depth in the old hymns. The churches that have left the hymns out of their worship are missing out on real treasure.

      “How Firm a Foundation” is also one of my favorites. Thank you for sharing that one!

    • Erin says:

      “How Firm” is a favorite of mine. I love it. Rarely can I sing through this now, without the quivering taking over.
      Erin recently posted..Saturday Evening Post with Elizabeth EstherMy Profile

  9. Lady Jennie says:

    I think I belong to a unique Christian community – I wasn’t brought up as an evangelical Christian. It was a choice I made as an adult, and I think I escaped a lot of the surface Christianity. I became a Christian in NYC where more than half of the people I studied with and were friends with had chemical dependency backgrounds or abuse backgrounds or other. There was no way to avoid being real, and no one ever told you it was going to be fine just because you were a Christian.

    That said, I think the happy clappy songs have a place. There’s just a time for everything. Where is that proverb that says, each heart knows its own bitterness; no one else can share its joy.

    • Joy says:

      You are right — we should rejoice with those who rejoice as well as weep with those who weep. I am working on a post for tomorrow (I hope?) about worshiping as a body in which at the same time, some are rejoicing and some are weeping. We shouldn’t only lament, any more than we should only rejoice.

  10. Pattyann says:

    Oh, I love this one today. What a wonderful thing to think about and ponder on. It is so easy to turn to God when life flows by like a song. But it is much harder to find the words when you are in the midst of trial and despair. One of my favorite laments is:

    Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
    But with joy, wend your way.
    Though hard to you this journey may appear,
    Grace shall be as your day.
    ’Tis better far for us to strive
    Our useless cares from us to drive;
    Do this, and joy your hearts will swell
    All is well! All is well!

    Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
    ’Tis not so, all is right.
    Why should we think to earn a great reward,
    If we now shun the fight?
    Gird up your loins; fresh courage take;
    Our God will never us forsake,
    And soon we’ll have this tale to tell,
    All is well! All is well!

    We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
    Far away, in the west,
    Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
    There the saints will be blessed.
    We’ll make the air with music ring,
    Shout praises to our God and King;
    Above the rest these words we’ll tell,
    All is well! All is well!

    And should we die before our journey’s through,
    Happy day! All is well!
    We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
    With the just we shall dwell!
    But if our lives are spared again
    To see the saints their rest obtain,
    O how we’ll make this chorus swell,
    All is well! All is well!
    Pattyann recently posted..I Know MarthaMy Profile

  11. These are my cling-to verses…found them when we were in the hospital with our little one (Selah) during the week before she died. I’m sure I’d read them before, but He had never wrapped them around my heart like He did during that time.

    Selah
    For God alone,
    O my soul,
    wait in silence,
    for my hope is from Him.
    He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress;
    I shall not be shaken.
    On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock,
    my refuge is God.
    Trust in Him at all time, O people;
    pour out your heart before Him;
    God is a refuge for us.
    Selah
    ~Psalm 62: 5-8
    Kara at The Chuppies recently posted..I Like Being In Fourth Grade or 4th Grade and DyslexiaMy Profile

    • Joy says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your little girl, Kara. What a beautiful psalm for such a difficult time.

      I have clung to Jesus’s words to let the little children come to him for they will be part of the kingdom of heaven.

  12. Melissa says:

    Blessed be your name is a powerful strong that brings me to tears every time I sing it. I remember when we first introduced that song to our congregation (as a worship team) and some people had an issue with the “He gives and takes away” section of the lyrics. My heart broke because not only are those words Biblical, they are also some of the words that resonated deepest in me. I don’t have to understand the why of the things that happen, I just need to remember the Who that doesn’t allow anything through His filter that is not, ultimately, for good.
    Melissa recently posted..God is still in the miracle businessMy Profile

  13. Kathy J says:

    Love you Joy. Love this. May we just sit and soak in your words. Oh how they resound. Love.
    Kathy J recently posted..Knight for a DayMy Profile

    • Janet says:

      Very important and astonishingly powerful writing about a much-neglected subject.

      Many Christians believe that the propher Isaiah was prophesying about Christ when he wrote,

      “He was a man of sorrows – acquainted with grief – and by His stripes, we are healed”…

      And Simeon told Mary, the mother of Jesus, at His circumcision, that “A sword shall pierce your heart”. And indeed it did.

      I am so thankful that God draws closer to us when we are in pain or grief, or lament – and I believe He grieves with us -

  14. Rich says:

    So right on target, Joy. Thanks for expressing it so well. When we have suffered, our perspective changes, and we see God in a new light.
    Rich recently posted..Is there a Gap in Christian Music Part 1My Profile

  15. Sharman says:

    There are contempory lament songs out in the Christian music world, like these two I had people sing at my mother’s funeral. Problem is that they are not being sung in churches as a part of worship! I believe they certainly ought to be. You’re so right again, Joy, God NEVER promised us an easy life. Worship leaders need to be aware that the lament songs have their rightfull place, along with (LOVE this phrase) happy-clappy songs. Let’s make them aware!

    Navigation: R \ Rich Mullins \ Hold Me Jesus

    Well, sometimes my life
    Just don’t make sense at all
    When the mountains look so big
    And my faith just seems so small

    CHORUS:
    So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
    You have been King of my glory
    Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

    And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
    It’s so hot inside my soul
    I swear there must be blisters on my heart

    Surrender don’t come natural to me
    I’d rather fight You for something
    I don’t really want
    Than to take what You give that I need
    And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
    Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

    And this Salvation Army band
    Is playing this hymn
    And Your grace rings out so deep
    It makes my resistance seem so thin

    You have been King of my glory
    Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

    Mercy Me Homesick

    You’re in a better place, I’ve heard a thousand times
    And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you
    But the reason why I’m broken, the reason why I cry
    Is how long must I wait to be with you

    I close my eyes and I see your face
    If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
    Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
    I’ve never been more homesick than now

    Help me Lord cause I don’t understand your ways
    The reason why I wonder if I’ll ever know
    But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
    Cause I’m still here so far away from home

    I close my eyes and I see your face
    If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
    Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
    I’ve never been more homesick than now

    In Christ, there are no goodbye
    And in Christ, there is no end
    So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
    To see you again
    To see you again

    And I close my eyes and I see your face
    If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
    Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
    Won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
    Won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow

    I’ve never been more homesick than now

  16. Young Mom says:

    Yes. The week after misscarying our first baby, I was bawling in church when we sang Psalm 46.

    God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever present help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear,
    though the earth give way,
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

    The other song that spoke to me then, was “Praise you in the Storm” by Casting Crowns. Even today, with all my questioning and doubt, that is one of the few contemporary christian songs that resonates with me.
    Young Mom recently posted..Post Partum Lawn Care ObservationsMy Profile

  17. frogla says:

    i find lamentations in blogs like yours and in devotional sites that come in my email. The Holy Experience, Proverbs 31, A Deeper Story, Joseph Prince, Girlfriends in God & NACR daily meditation. Thank you for expressing so easily your heart and what you are learning! xo

  18. Laura says:

    I jumped over from Sat. Eve. Blog Post. You are SO right. Lamenting must be a part of life, and songs that lead us through that valley are so important. I’m with you!
    Laura recently posted..Saturday Evening Blog PostMy Profile

  19. Committed says:

    Joy,
    I was so moved by the honesty of this post. I think sometimes we are afraid to admit that God is still the same God of grace and protection and resilience and power even if He isn’t “fixing” what we need to be fixed. Faith is more complicated the more we acknowledge God is mysterious, and we don’t always have the answers that used to comfort us. I had a similar reflection on this a few weeks ago: http://journeysofcommitment.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/dont-forget-about-friday/

    Glad to share in your journey via Gypsy Mama – can’t wait to read more!
    Committed recently posted..Like Pieces in Wonka’s Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  20. Erin says:

    I so appreciate your post here, Joy. While I know some of the “happy clappy songs” may come right out of the Psalms & there is nothing wrong with them & they have a good & rightful place, they should not be the whole of worship. If I am in a church service that is full of “I will celebrate” songs, it does start to feel superficial & I am not worshiping any longer. I feel disconnected. Where is the deeper truth under the worship? What is making me worship?
    One thing that brings me to worship is my sorrow & the fact that He is my comfort & my peace. He is my joy (not my smiley, happy, happy, necessarily…)
    I like “In Christ Alone”
    Erin recently posted..Saturday Evening Post with Elizabeth EstherMy Profile

  21. Handsfull says:

    Love this post… When I was going through my deepest pain, I couldn’t find words to express to God what I was feeling so I would just sing to Him without words. Sing my fear, sing my pain, sing my uncertainty and grief. I didn’t feel Him close at the time, but He has shown me since then how much He valued my songs, and that He saw them as hands reaching out for Him… searching in the dark.

  22. shauna says:

    Wow. You are speaking words that have been on my heart for quite some time. I just couldn’t quite put them together without sounding bitter and resentful. I”m thankful that God showed me this post today.

  23. Elisa Todd says:

    Even today, with all my questioning and doubt, that is one of the few contemporary christian songs that resonates with me. We shouldn’t only lament, any more than we should only rejoice. From other Christians words to me, I feel like I’m not good enough anyhow to deal with this my way… with God and me.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] worship. You can read the other posts here: How You Can Stop Lying In Church, How Happy Songs Hurt, Without Lament We Lie About God, and yesterday’s post, Hypocrisy 101: Tips for Worship Leaders Part [...]

  2. [...] despite my last three posts (How You Can Stop Lying In Church, How Happy Songs Hurt, and Without Lament We Lie About God) calling for us to include lament in our worship, it would be a mistake to only lament. Doing so [...]

  3. [...] miss the remaining posts in this series on worship: How Happy Songs Hurt, Without Lament We Lie About God, Hypocrisy 101 – Five Tips for Worship Leaders, and Leading People Into Honest Worship – 5 [...]