Language for Lament
Jill Peláez Baumgaertner
O Lord, make haste to help me! Psalm 70:1
Psalm 70 is a song of lament, an expression of grief or sorrow. The Psalmist also decries the humiliation that the enemy wants to inflict on him. What he craves is deliverance from his enemies and, above all, what he wants to see is justice. But his enemies instead cry, “Aha, Aha!” celebrating their victory over the powerless and the oppressed. He recognizes that those who seek God should rejoice and be glad and say “God is great,” but he wonders why God is taking so long. Does this sound familiar? It is, unfortunately, a description of the human condition and has been played out in familiar scenarios throughout history.
Lament is strong in the songs of the Black Church, in the spirituals which personalize the suffering that enslaved people experienced and which carries over into the lives of their descendants. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long ways from home,” one of these songs laments. “Let my people go,” they sing, connecting the slaveowners, the powerful, the tyrants with Pharoah from the book of Exodus and the enslaved people with the enslaved Israelites. And the songs still have chilling resonance.
Another example: Elie Wiesel, in his play The Trial of God, describes a scene he observed when he was a fifteen-year-old in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. For several nights three Jewish scholars conducted a trial in which God was accused of crimes against humanity. After hearing many witnesses, the judges reached a verdict, declaring God guilty. And then, Wiesel writes, they, counterintuitively, recited evening prayer. The enemies were crying, “Aha, Aha!” but the Jews were asking God for deliverance as they lamented: “You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!” The oppressed and suffering, the enslaved, those in concentration camps and prisons and in any contemporary situation where fear is rampant among the persecuted echo this cry daily.
The psalms express our own experiences of suffering, grief, and loss and give us the language to express our deepest fears, our desire for justice, and for God’s fast intervention.
God, we ask for deliverance from those who persecute the powerless and the suffering. We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.