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The Benefits of Lament on the Heart

The Belhar Confession has been described appropriately as “a cry from the heart.” It is an embodiment of lament in the face of racial injustice. I have found myself lamenting lately. I lament my father who was targeted by police because of his resistance to factory farming through butchering animals in his backyard - as he did in his home country. I lament a long term care company trying to disallow my mother and her friends from speaking their Filipino dialects. I lament my friend’s academic journey marked by unrelenting discrimination because of her African heritage. I lament the western workers in my friend’s First Nation who are trying to run the community according to their terms using practices infused with white superiority. I lament to God, somethimes in colourful language, the world as it is, for it is far from the kingdom and the Spirit.

Laments are prayers distinguished by the raw emotional energy they carry. One has described laments as “visceral worship.”[2] Witvlet describes them as “honest worship” in which we “bring our most intense theological questions right into the sanctuary.” [3] 

It is the process of shifting our hope from diseased imaginations and idols towards the One who is truly worthy of our hope. 

Walter Brueggemann argues that one of the reasons the church has neglected the use of laments is due to an “enlightenment conscious” which denies that “human need and anger are as persistent and profound as they actually are.”[4] Laments challenge our allegiance to enlightenment ideologies. Through lament, we can resist a twisted optimism in humanity’s ability to overcome obstacles, which is often nothing more than a deformed view of maturity soaked in white supremacy.

Inspire 2019 conference speaker, Soong-Chan Rah, states that lament encourages worshippers to embrace the “dis-ease in our lives in order to create the desire to move us forward.” [5] Similar to the manifesto of The Dark Mountain Project, the purpose of lament is not nihilism. Rather it is the process of shifting our hope from diseased imaginations and idols - such as technology, mammon, the human spirit - towards the One who is truly worthy of our hope. 

In this way, lament actually strengthens our faith. Perhaps counterintuitively, lament deals with pain and grief in a way that does not encourage one to turn inwardly. Laments direct our pain to God and the result is “faith incorporating grief”. Nicholas Wolterstroff asserts that such faith, “is stronger and richer than a faith that sings only praise songs.” [6] Lament offers us a stronger faith because of its ability to hold together the theological tensions that come with suffering. The Psalmist turning to God holds the despair of present crisis in tension with the fact that God, though seemingly silent, is my God, the One beautifully described through the Psalmists’ various metaphors – the Lord who is good, mighty, able and loving.[7] 

I lament because it is the most faithful thing to do in the face of injustice

Drawing from Brueggemann, Witvlet notices the ability of the laments to both affirm and limit the pain we experience. He writes that the church can help those in suffering “by providing language to acknowledge honestly their feeling of helplessness. At the same time, such language provides a limit for that experience. For those who suffer, biblically- shaped liturgical laments convey three important and interwoven themes: their suffering is real, it is spiritually significant, and it is not the last word—all without a theological treatise on the subject.”[8]

In this way, lament both sets our eyes on Christ the suffering servant, and it awakens our hearts to the pain of others, especially those victims of the diseased world system opposed to the kingdom. 

Lament also connects the theology of the kingdom and the cross in a beautiful way. While lament is a response to a diseased world so distant from the kingdom, it also highlights the way in which God inaugurated his kingdom on earth - the cross. God deals with grief, pain and suffering in the world through the grief, pain and suffering of his Son. 

Without lament and the “liturgical pattern of crucifixion and resurrection” in our worship, argues Clous Westermann, we lose the theology of the cross.[9] We also lose the theology of the kingdom. 

I lament because it is the most faithful thing to do in the face of injustice. Those who try to minimise the pain and injustice of people of colour also minimise the gospel of Jesus and the Spirit who consoles and suffers with us. 

O Lord how long will you forget us and leave us surrounded by starved polar bears!

[1] Christian Reformed Church, “Confession of Belhar,” n.p. Cited 5 March 2022, Online:

[2] June Dickie, “Practising Healthy Theology in the Local Church: Lamenting with those in pain and restoring hope,” n.p. Cited 5 March 2022, Online:

[3] John D. Witvlet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in times of crisis,” n.p. Cited 5 March 2022, Online:

[4] Walter Brueggemann, “The Friday Voice of Faith: A serious theology of the cross requires a serious practice of the lament psalms,” n.p. Cited 5 March 2022, Online:

[5] Kirsten deRoo VanderBerg, “Inspire: The Necessity of Lament,” n.p. Cited 5 March 2022, Online:

[6] Nicholas Wolterstroff, “The Art of Lament,” n.p. Cited 5 March 2022, Online:

[7] Witvlet, “A Time to Weep,” n.p.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brueggemann, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” n.p.

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