When evil is exposed and our world crumbles, it feels like injustice will conquer any hope for order. As Christians, finding the right response can be challenging. For some, ignorance is easier than asking God the tough questions. For others, God’s apparent silence can be frustrating. In recent Conexion pieces, we explored practical ministry responses to handling injustices around the world. But what about our emotional and intellectual response? We turned to Vinoth Ramachandra, the IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Engagement, to learn more about the topic of lament.
Even before he became a Christian Vinoth felt troubled by the inequalities and suffering in the world. He read through the Bible in university, taking note of the solid theological reasons to express anger and discomfort over injustice. He realized that the God of the Bible not only weeps with his people, but often expresses outrage over exploitation and oppression.
Yet he observed many churches only emphasizing Scripture about God’s blessing. As a result, Christians felt ashamed for questioning God. Instead of expressing their questions, they bottled them inside.
Vinoth believes that many Christians avoid difficult topics like suffering because they were not encouraged to practice lament. He advises students not to run from their worries, questions, and anger, but to honestly bring them to God.
After years of his own journey with lament, Vinoth was inspired to write Sarah’s Laughter. His book offers an authentic exploration of suffering from a biblical perspective and challenges Christians to develop a “questioning faith.” We asked Vinoth to share some of his wisdom on the topic of lament.
What is lament?
“Lament is simply honest and faithful speech that keeps the conversation with God going as we journey with him through dark and desolate places. More than a third of the Psalms, which was the hymn book of ancient Israel and the early church, are psalms of lament. Since God loves justice, rampant injustice was troubling to Israel and the early church. Since God speaks and acts, they were bewildered by his apparent silence and indifference.
Unlike complaining and grumbling, lament allows people to express their emotions directly to God. Through lament, paradoxically, we cling to God in faith even as we accuse him of being unjust or uncaring. When we lament through worship we don’t escape from the world, but we bring the pain and evil of the world to God in language that combines anguish and hope.”
Why do many people forget to lament?
“The modern church, in contrast to the early church, is so comfortable in the world. It pretends that all is well. It doesn’t yearn for a more just world order. Many Christians grow up with a small view of God. Although they sing of God’s grace, they are afraid to ask questions, and to express honest doubts. They think that God is judging all their thoughts and words and will punish them for straying out of line. Hence, there is much shallowness that passes for worship in our comfortable churches where people keep their personal pain bottled up and turn their backs on the suffering of the societies in which they live.”
How can students learn to practice lament?
“Students don’t need to be taught how to incorporate lament into their lives. They need to be told simply to be honest with God, with themselves and with others. What stifles their honesty are misconceptions about what it means to be “spiritual.”
What would you say to a student who is questioning God’s silence in the face of injustice and suffering?
“As I said earlier, lament gives a means of speaking to God even as the foundations beneath our feet shake. It allows us to address God with a foot in two worlds, both the world that is passing away and the new world that is being birthed.
Remembering Psalm 88, the darkest of all the lament psalms, connects us to the silence of God and the darkness within which so many of us live, whether from depression, dementia, violence, severe illness, divorce, bereavement, disability, unemployment, or whatever.
Even Jesus lamented. Psalm 22 was on his lips when he hung on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Christian maturity is about living in the darkness with our questions; and practising faithfulness to Christ even as we weep, struggle and yearn for that new world.”
If you want to learn more about the topic of lament from Vinoth, check out his interview series as well as his book, Sarah’s Laughter. Want to win a free copy of his book? Find out about our giveaway here.
Are you looking for more scriptural examples of lament? Check these out.
Psalm 3 – An archetypal example of lament which shows questioning followed by assurance.
Psalm 89 – A communal lament wrestling with the promises of God.
Psalm 73 – A journey of disillusionment and restoration.
Jeremiah 19-20 – A narrative of the prophet being abused in ministry and pouring his troubles out before God.