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Bifrost Arts:

Carl Trueman:

Perhaps . . . [the Western church] has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party—a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals.

Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is—or at least should be—all about health, wealth, and happiness corrupted the content of our worship?

. . . In the psalms, God has given the church a language which allows it to express even the deepest agonies of the human soul in the context of worship.

Does our contemporary language of worship reflect the horizon of the expectation regarding the believer’s experience which the psalter proposes as normative?

If not, why not?

Is it because the comfortable values of Western middle-class consumerism have silently infiltrated the church and made us consider such cries irrelevant, embarrassing, and signs of abject failure?

—Carl R. Trueman, “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in The Wages Of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Christian Focus, 2005), 159-160.

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8 thoughts on “Does Your Church Have Room to Sing of Lament?”

  1. Justin,

    This is an important emphasis. Back in November, TGC ran a piece I did that hit this note (“Don’t Sanitize the Psalms – I quoted Christopher J. H. Wright’s suggestion that,

    “It is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain in protest to God—without fear of reproach. Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes (The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith).

    The Psalmist felt no need to pretend that he had it all together and he did not limit himself to safe clichés about God. Sometimes he expressed deep anxiety and fear; other times he was plagued with a sense of despondency and discouragement. He ocassionally vented anger over injustice and admitted a loss of perspective when he envied the prosperity of the ungodly.

    I suggested that if David applied for a staff position in our churches and gave us his “diary of worship” to better understand his life, we would hesitate to give him serious consideration? We would at least want clarification on a few portions, perhaps even asking if he had seen a counselor to work through his issues.

  2. Mark says:

    Justin, thank you for the video blog and Trueman quote. I needed this. Realizing that things are never quite right in the human soul, lamentation is an appropriate part of the rhythm of our lives … but how much more when we wake up and see that we have developed a closer camaraderie with the world than with our God? This is the time for corporate wretchedness, weeping and mourning. May God melt my heart of stone because I’m finding it hard to shed even one tear over my condition.

  3. Mark Z says:

    This is an interesting question you pose, and an interesting idea. I am curious however to see what it would look like in practice however. While praise songs might involve expressing emotions, the primary purpose is to bring honor and worship to God, not emote. It’s worth noting, for instance, that the majority of Psalms which involve expressing frustration, hurt, or loss, ultimately end in praise and thanksgiving. In other words, the Psalms may express pain, but they don’t leave us there, or glorify the pain, or even ultimately focus on the experience of it. Now, worship may not reflect this in the contemporary church (yet) but I think this desire to be authentically broken and sinful is very present in the message and teaching of the Church. Often, in a way that is unhelpful, and enables or excuses Believers to remain in a complacent cycle of “I’m just a sinner. We are all broken and messed up. Welcome to the club!” There is little of the victory, hope, and overcoming that ought to be present. I’m not reacting to what you’ve posted so much as what this idea might become taken to its endth extreme.

    Are there any songs you would say provide adequate examples of expressing lamentation?

    1. Rachael Starke says:

      Tenth Avenue North has a great song that fits the lament genre called “Worn”. Almost every mom I know seems to have adopted it as their current defining song. :) But there’s the usual separate (but connected!!) issue of whether it’s appropriate for collective, congregational singing. I’d argue not.

    2. anaquaduck says:

      It’s going back twenty years or so but as part of confession before God we would sing portions of a psalm reflecting the way in which we wander.

      Connecting with God should enable us to express our personal situation as much as the body as a whole. Our dialogue should be honest. Traditionally hymns were full of wonderful theology that expressed our dependence on God through a myriad of situations & emotions. The church should represent not only the joy & jubilation of our salvation but also our struggles with our old nature & the world. It seems to be a process, at times I am encouraged by another’s joy, at other times another’s suffering as I too suffer.

      At times I need to be reminded not to give in to the sadness, after all this is my father’s world, at other times it’s Ok to be down & sad under the circumstances, but keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Expressing our Joy in Jesus is something everybody ought to know.

      Sermons & prayer usually should cover these things but I cant see why spiritual songs cant also.

    3. Mark says:

      Starting with Scripture we have many examples such as the “Penitential Psalms” (Psalms 6, 25, 32, 38, 51, 130, 143) and Lamentations itself that give us the green light to head up this street. As far as modern equivalents, I’d recommend High Street Hymns, Indelible Grace, Sovereign Grace Music and Mars Hill Music. They all seem to present the balance of contrition, mercy and grace to overcome that I think you’re looking for. Hope this helps.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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