Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Lament to God

'The Scream' by Edvard Munch

Concerning the speech form of a lament, Oswald Bayer writes:

"It is proper ‘against God to press toward God and to call out:’ to the God revealed in the gospel. Only through Christ does the Holy Spirit let one see into the heart of God the Father. Only inthis way will he be experienced as love. But to turn this understanding into a theological principle would make it a form of enthusiasm, which impatiently does away with the difference between faith and seeing – supposing that the terrifying hiddenness of God and the way it contradicts his love have been left in the past already."

Although it is true that all has been rectified in Christ, the Christian who lives simultaneously as sinner and saint on this side of the grave must meet both the “revealed God” and the “unrevealed God.” He meets the God who suffers, dies, and announces peace and mercy to all as well as the God who is behind hurricanes, earthquakes, school shootings, and unimaginable sufferings. We meet the God revealed in the womb of Mary who takes away the sins of the world as well as the hidden God who governs a world that appears at times as a screaming, murderous, and chaotic nightmare.

Bayer notes that how we understand God is not a matter of “thinking” and working these contradictions out but rather “confessing.” In confession we run to God who meets his people with outstretched arms on a cross – who prays for us – intercedes – blesses – and forgives.

Yet all encounter a God who likewise afflicts, chastises, and stands behind the most unspeakable horrors of the world. God is not absent – not far off – but always present at work. Because we meet this God, the “lament” and the “cry” must follow as an inevitable consequence of this seeming contradiction which all people must confront. The terrifying works of God remain hidden works, un-preached works, indecipherable works before the final consummation of all things.

Therefore both the believer in Christ and unbeliever will lament and cry. The Christian lament however is functioning as an expression of meeting both the revealed God in Jesus Christ and oppositely the God who seems to whip the world into all kinds of despair and disorder. The cry of the unbeliever who seeks God outside of Christ deals only with the hidden God who is utterly terrifying and unknowable. Therefore this cry is a cry in the dark with no particular hope to rest in except vain idols and false messiahs. This is the cry in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' where the terrified figure looks into the black void of the unrevealed and hidden God outside of Christ and is twisted and contorted into a vortex of hopelessness and deathly fear.

The Christian lament however deals with the unspeakable horrors of this world but does not seek to decifer in them the innerworkings of God. He seeks not the unsearchable God outside of the Christ. Through violence and despair the Christian lament holds God accountable to his promise finding hope in faith. As Bayer notes, only in God's act on the cross, has the Father's heart been revealed - and it is a heart who pours forth life not for some but for all who will drink in faith.


  1. I think I disagree with Bayer. I don't think the unfaithful can truly sing a lament. A lament isn't just "woe is me, things suck" but a lament also adds a confession of trust (faith) in God's promises. A lament is nasty, and has the boldness to say to God: "This sucks, and you owe us better! We're holding your feet to the fire for the promises you've made to us. You MUST arise and hear the cries of your people." To this bold lament (which is nothing more than faith in its audible sung form) God speaks as He does in Luther's Hymn on Psalm 12:

    Therefore saith God, "I MUST arise. The poor my help are needing. To me ascend my peoples' cries, and I have heard their pleading....."

    God desires us to be bold when it comes to holding Him to His promises. The catechism on the Lord's Prayer is wonderful on this. God desires this because it is faith that cries out and makes such demands of Him, that He keep His promise to us. The Lord's Prayer is therefore the proper lament, for it prays "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" in the context of "Our Father" who tenderly invites us to believe and lament to Him. We should be certain that such laments are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him. For He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen Amen.

  2. Your response is more a response to me than Bayer. I agree with you that the word "lament" in the true biblical sense is unique for the Christian insofar as he holds God to his promise and confesses with all boldness "Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up!" That the heart is fixed on Christ amidst the the sharp arrows, swords, and lions expresses itself in what we consider a "lament."

    It would be better said in my post that those apart from Christ prattle a lament and cry void of God who reveals himself in Christ - "listen to him."

    What is true is that both Christian and non-Christian must confront the hidden God who deals in the terrors of this world. The lament however, which confesses Christ through the bitter thorns is fully fed and and satisfied with a full cup. The desolation of the selfish cry apart from God incarnate of the virgin - the crucified one - are utterly consumed by terrors. In the rejection of preaching and separation from the sanctuary do we know their end.

    Thanks for referencing the Lord's Prayer 6th and particularly 7th petition "deliver us from evil." I love what you said here - that it is pleasing to God and models the lament that we confesses unto the final resting place.


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