A lament is "a passionate expression of grief or sorrow." Laments can be about societal sins, social issues, personal sorrow, personal guilt, etc. Throughout the Bible, lament poems and hymns are common. We see this theme most prevalently throughout the book of Psalms, in which about one third of the psalms qualify as laments. Laments are first an expression of pain or description of some sort of excruciating circumstance, and second a request for help from the Lord. The laments generally culminate with an expression of hope in the Lord to make things right.
Some laments are known as community laments. These laments are generally despairing over the sins of humanity and the seeming success of sinners. For example, Psalm 94:3–6 says, "O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless." The wicked are oppressing the weak. The psalmist is despairing this fact, wishing for it to end. The end of this psalm reflects a conscious decision of the psalmist to place his hope in God as a place of refuge and a guarantee of justice for evildoers in the future: "But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the LORD our God will wipe them out" (Psalm 94:22–23). The community laments remind us that sin will not prevail and they place trust in God as the hope for ultimate justice within society.
There are also laments known as personal laments. These laments reflect personal sorrow and grief due to individual hardship, sin, guilt, or loss. They are a seeking of the Lord at the times when He feels the most distant. Many times, throughout Psalms, David who is being pursued by his enemies who desire to kill him cries out to a seemingly absent God. For example, Psalm 55:2–5 says, "Attend to me, and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and I moan, because of the noise of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked. For they drop trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me. My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me" (Psalm 55:2–5). There is a theme throughout the personal laments of feeling forgotten and abandoned by God: "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?" (Psalm 13:1–2).
Again, just as with the community laments, the personal laments generally shift focus from grieving, fearing, and complaining to thanking the Lord for His faithfulness and goodness within the midst of hardship. The psalmist returns to a place of trust in God each time he falls into fear and despair: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" (Psalm 42:11; see also Psalm 55).
We all experience opposition, hardships, and fear within our lives. The psalms of lament are refreshingly raw in their open expression of emotions. They show us that we can be totally open and honest with God about our frustrations, even in our most difficult of times when it feels like He is far away. And on the other end of the spectrum, they show us that the best way to process our struggles and grief is by expressing them to God, praising Him in the midst of them, and turning our attention to a place of total trust in the Lord and His ability to make all things right.
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