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Ah, the Psalms of lament. In terms of the “big categories” of Psalms, this one is the granddaddy. It seems I’m not the only one who likes to complain about life occasionally. Or daily. Here’s a sampling of some of these kvetchy masterpieces:
12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89*, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129
3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27*, 28, 31, 36*, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89*, 120, 139, 141, 142
Despite their prevalence, however, I’ve not been a huge fan of the laments until quite recently. That’s because I would read them, feel a catharsis in stating my complaints/ailments/shattered dreams out loud, and then have to turn right back around in a head-whipping 180 to worship God. And I can’t upshift that fast.
The typical formula for a lament, either individual or communal, is the following:
- Launch opening salvo: “My life sucks.”
- Include 289 or so verses describing all the many ways your life sucks. No detail is too small here. Lay it all on the table, people.
- Repeat opening salvo; once more with feeling. There’s certainly no harm in restating. For good measure, remind God about how unfair it is that your enemies are healthy and wealthy. And then . . .
- Pop a happy pill and affirm that God will come to your rescue someday really, really soon. Also add that you know he is good and righteous and will bring you candy just like the Easter Bunny did that one time.
My problem was always in jumping from Step 3 to Step 4. That final stage felt inauthentic, like the tidy ending tacked on to a made-for-TV movie. Deus ex machina, indeed. Pass the popcorn.
However, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann recently rocked my world on this point. He was the Wednesday evening Lenten speaker at my husband’s church, so for 5 Wednesdays he explored the Psalms to rapt audiences of 150 or so people – no exaggeration. It was fantastic.
And here is what he said about the Psalms of lament: They are ancient Israel’s psychotherapy session.
When people go into therapy for an hour, all they do is vent about their problems. And vent and vent. At the end of the hour, nothing about their circumstances has really changed; there is still distance in the marriage or cancer in the liver or not enough money in the bank. But they feel different. They have said their piece. They have made their case and pointed to their suffering. And at the 55-minute mark in therapy, they can breathe a little easier. They might leave with a spark of hope.
And as a bonus, saying the Psalms is way cheaper than psychotherapy.
#Twible Ps 72: G, please help our king Solomon, for he delivers the needy when they call. Except when he enslaves them. There’s always that.
#Twible Ps 73: You know, the wicked don’t seem to be doing so badly. They’re gorgeous & wealthy & praised. Remind me why that is?
#Twible Ps 74: Rise up, G, & plead the cause of the poor. They couldn’t afford a lawyer & you’ve been appointed as Public Defender #1.
#Twible Ps 75: When earthquakes come, both literal and metaphorical, G will keep us steady. Except for the wicked, who are once again toast.
#Twible Ps 76: G, everyone is terrified of you. It’s that awful temper of yours! Thx for throwing stuff at our enemies this time though.
#Twible Ps 77: I’m trying to remind myself of those great deeds you did in the past, G, b/c right now I’m sad & exhausted. You still w/ me?
#Twible Ps 78: 78 is G’s side of the story, & is HE ever ticked. Sees himself as a Giving Tree that Israel keeps lifting its leg to pee on.
#Twible Ps 79: G, pour out your anger on the nations who don’t know you, not at us. We’re family! Go pick on some goyim for a change.