The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Mar 31, 2019

When do Lament (and protest?) go too far? When do they become accusation?

During my time at Southeastern I had the privilege of taking a 1-credit doctoral module called "Biblical Lament" with Old Testament scholar Heath Thomas (now at Oklahoma Baptist University). This class revolutionized how I thought about biblical lament (to be truthful, I had never really thought about biblical lament before), and I require all my Hermeneutics students at BCM to read an article by Thomas on this topic. My main take-a-ways from that study is that lament is misunderstood (and thus underutilized)  in the church, and lament is biblical when entered in via faith. In other words, in the midst of suffering, when I cry out to God for deliverance and/or justice, I do so in faith, believing that He actually hears me. I must, however, be content with the answer (or lack of answer) He gives, trusting ultimately in His goodness.

Yesterday I returned from Chicago, having attended (and presented) at the regional ETS meeting at Moody Bible Institute. The third plenary address dealt with "A Christian Liturgical Response to Religious Trauma" and had some practical material in it. I am grateful to the presenter for her expertise. However, the session did raise some questions about methodology and Scriptural-centeredness, which leads me to attempt to address some practical and theological questions.

[To be clear, this is not meant to be a critique or engagement with the presenter; that is not the purpose of this blog, and I am not informed enough of the topic of religious trauma or even counseling in general to be able to contribute significantly to the discussion]

To begin with, I affirm once again that lament (and, to a certain degree, cautiously defined, protest) is biblical (e.g., multiple Psalms, even the occasional Psalm that doesn't end on a happy note, such as Psalm 88; the words of Job; Jesus' cry on the cross, quoting Psalm 22; the martyrs of Revelation 6:10).

Yet throughout Scripture, proper Lament seems to have at its heart the profession that God is good and just. For example, the martyrs in Revelation 6:10 cry out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge . . ." That confession of God's good character seems to be at the heart of biblical lament. "God, I know you are good, so why do the wicked still reign?" Even Psalm 88:11, the darkest psalm, affirms God's chessed [KJV: "lovingkindness"; ESV: "steadfast love"] and his "faithfulness" in the midst of its protest.

Consequently, I feel that lament and protest have crossed a line when they become accusatory: "God, are you really good?" Frankly, I'm not always sure what the line is (the Psalms are more complicated than we would like!), but the fact that there is a line that should not be crossed does seem to be indicated by the ending of Job. While God does affirm Job's righteousness, and certainly his moral superiority over his loud-mouthed friends, nonetheless God does "get in Job's face" a little bit, rebuking him. 

Consider Job 40:2 [which stands in stark contrast to Rev 6:11], "Should the one quarreling with the Almighty correct him? Let the one arguing against God answer Him!" [my translation] The Hebrew word ריב is a fairly common word, often referring to what we call "quarreling" or "fighting" in English (e.g., Genesis 26:20, 31:36). The word translated "arguing" here [יכח] is a bit more complicated, often having a more positive meaning ("decide"; e.g., Gen 24:14), but also often having the negative connotation of opposition (e.g., Gen 31:42, where both the KJV and ESV translate it as "rebuke").

Nonetheless, the Lord obviously feels Job has crossed a line, because Job has become one who "quarrels" with God or "rebukes" God. To quarrel with somebody or to rebuke somebody is to question their integrity. You don't "rebuke" somebody you feel is in the right!

In other words, with no intent of being irreverent, it is one thing to say, "God, you are just and holy, so why is this happening?" and an altogether different thing to say "God, you're a jerk!" We have every right to ask God questions and appeal to His goodness in the face of a world that is obviously not conformed to His goodness. We also have the right to assert our uprightness in the face of unfair attacks, when appropriate (as Job did). However, we have absolutely no right to call God to face trial or to suggest that He has become our enemy, which I feel is where Job begins to cross the line (see especially Job 19, which bears some significant similarities to Naomi's foolish statements in Ruth 1:13, 20-21).

Lament and protest are biblical, but only when infused with faith in the ultimate goodness and power of God. I'd like to see a bit more discussion of the point at where lament becomes accusation, especially when we begin to incorporate it into our liturgy ["liturgy" is here broadly defined: I am, after all, a Baptist!]. Church should be a place where we can weep and honestly ask God why something is happening, but Church must also consistently be the place where God's virtues are proclaimed ( 1 Peter 2:9), not where accusations are brought against Him. Church must always declare that no matter how corrupt the world and society are, no matter how tragic or unfair my circumstances are, God's goodness endures forever.

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