If the emotion in the pit of your stomach after watching another killing of an African American man, a suicide bombing, a car-crash, stabbing, or a sniper killing is anger and rage, then it is anger and rage. Effective laments do not somehow transpose what is horrific and jarring into something mild, polite, correct, and meaningless. Anger is anger. Rage is rage. Within the world of biblical laments anger and rage are NOT grounds for ignoring the lament. Expressing these powerful emotions within prayer and the context of worshiping communities are actually a kind of spiritual practice and a major characteristic of the God of justice – who rights wrongs – as well as those who are faithful to that God.
Remember your word to your servant, because you have given me hope. This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. The proud have derided me cruelly, but I have not turned from your law. When I remember your judgments of old, O LORD, I take great comfort. I am filled with a burning rage, because of the wicked who forsake your law. Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. I remember your Name in the night, O LORD, and dwell upon your law.
Rage is hardly uncommon: in the Bible God often is greatly distressed at Israel. Usually with very good reasons associated with longstanding injustice towards those who cry out from beneath the heel of oppression. But all of this anger and rage is never one-sided. We must also acknowledge and face our own rage and anger towards God, society, and injustice. Dealing with strong emotions is advanced spiritual and communal work. We have to train for lament; and even very small practice sessions help us to develop the emotional and spiritual skills to cry out to God in distress from faith.
We learn to lament by paying deep attention to what is going on – emotionally, politically, spiritually, socially – within us and around us, and then finding strong language, sounds, gestures, and images to convey to God and each other the significance and intensity of those emotions. We do so without editing out the “unacceptable” emotions, including anger and rage. Anger and rage are glaring indications of dis-ease and or dis-stress. They can be likened to a fever that informs us that something is wrong with the body. As with a fever, their intensity and duration provide clues to the magnitude and shape of what is perhaps unidentified: the underlying cause. Neither the fever nor the anger or rage is the problem, but is a crucial indication that there is a major problem requiring attention if we are to work towards any kind of effective resolution.
This critical step of awareness does not identify the problem, and even less does it allow us to know what is to be done about it. Also, unlike a fever that pertains only to the body, anger and rage may be symptoms of something wrong with the body, or an external force affecting the body, or some combination of the two. It is not enough to simply know that we are deeply distressed; we must figure out why, and then only later on, what to do or not to do, about our distress.
Lament requires us to pay deep attention to what is going on within us and around us – emotionally, politically, spiritually, socially. Then to hand that anger and rage over to God to be acknowledged and addressed within the daring expanse of our intimate relationship with God and each other. Anger and rage are not a place to remain, but they are powerful and necessary stops on the journey towards wisdom, compassion, and acts of justice and love.
A version of this post was published in the Mission Institute Newsletter
Mission Institute Newsletter July 28, 2016