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Lamentations

One of the characteristics of Old Testament faith that a lot of Christians have trouble with is the often brutal honesty of many texts about their anger or frustration with God. The psalmists can forthrightly describe how they feel that God has abandoned them. Jeremiah and other prophets can reveal their anger at God for calling them to a task that seems too hard. Job can question God’s justice and demand he appear to give an account of himself.

Last night I was teaching at church about how the Psalms in particular can convey the whole range of human emotion, including those darker aspects of ourselves we prefer to keep under wraps — especially at church! But there is great wisdom in finding the freedom to express to God what we really feel and not be constrained to merely repeating pious platitudes.

The book of Lamentations is one of those texts that is sometimes shocking in its honesty. The author perceives God as Israel’s enemy and wonders if there is any reason for hope. He closes with a prayer for God to restore the people, but then adds, “unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure” (Lam 5:22).

What do you do with passages like that? After church, a friend and Mercer colleague told me he has sometimes had students respond to such texts by saying, “But you shouldn’t talk to God that way!” And yet, many of the Bible’s heroes of faith did just that. We’ve somehow hypnotized ourselves into thinking that God won’t be able to handle it if we tell him how we really feel, or that it is somehow a sign of lack of faith to feel what we do. Personally, I’m grateful God is big enough to deal with me when I’m at my ugliest. Honesty before God creates an environment in which my faith can grow.

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