Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pastoral Care of Lament: Suffering in the Psalmic Community



“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22-23).

In reference to this passage in Romans, Luther preached the following on October 20, 1532:

"O how I would love to be saved! Help from death! That is a call, such as no language and no fleshly human being knows it, and it wants nothing other than salvation from death. Therefore, every Christian must learn that this sighing and lamenting will be heard and makes a noise in heaven, that the Lord will come and help."[1]

With the universality of human suffering the Christian community comes to the Divine Service and the Daily Office as broken vessels. They come with sins that weigh them down, acute depression, loneliness, and agony of mind and heart. The Christian community needs truth and longs for an acknowledgment of their plight. They do not come to sing joyous hymns with the faithful because they have “everything together,” but rather because things have fallen apart. They need an address, an honest analysis of their circumstance. The lament is the answer for the broken hearted because it gives a voice to the anguish and clings to the promise of hope. It is the hope that Christ has intervened to justify sinners. They cry to the good Shepherd that they may be heard and granted peace and mercy.


The speech act of the lament may be the most neglected element in the Church’s liturgy. It strips the old man of any semblance of religious egoism. He is undressed of his secrets, pride, works, and is left naked in complete helplessness, “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward” (Lam. 1:8). The lament simultaneously exposes the individual before God, as well as the broader community through a common confession of sin in the context of public worship.


Besides sin, guilt, and shame, people come to church in times of family or national tragedy. For example, what happens in public worship on Sunday when a young child of the congregation was brutally murdered earlier in the week? What happens when a member commits suicide? What happens in times of economic depression? What happens when a tornado rips through the town, taking several lives, and destroys the church building? Does a pastor in contemplative seriousness blurt out that all things work together for good? (Rom 8:28).


The psalms specifically name isolation, shame, despair, danger, physical suffering, and death. The Holy Scriptures, namely the psalms meet the sufferer in his or her most darkened and disillusioned state. Pastoral care steeped in a theology of lament both clarifies and contextualizes human suffering in Christ’s cross. Facilitating a theology of lament in the parish equips grieving families with the Lord’s vocabulary to honestly address their feelings of helplessness. First, lament makes the suffering real, exposing it. Second, the lament does not gloss over suffering as an obstacle, but finds it spiritually significant. Third, lament holds God’s prior and final word together to mediate the present situation. The word of God does not deal statically with the human ear and heart but speaks to them creatively – handing over his own lament for them to speak.



Marxism reduces sufferings to the tension of class rivalries and disparate distribution of wealth. One particular philosopher from the Frankfurt School, Theodore W. Adorno, describes suffering as “the corporeal imprint of society and the object upon human consciousness -the need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject."[2] With the critical theory method popularized by Frankfurt philosophers, capitalism and mass culture was the sole cause of suffering and loss of human dignity. It is not the erring and sinful heart but the power structures of culture and commerce that casts the world into despair.


In the name of science, Darwinism would proclaim that suffering is purely a natural mechanism of evolutionary development or “survival of the fittest.” The strongest physically and psychologically will prosper, while the weak will perish and be weeded out through natural selection. Suffering therefore, becomes no more than a biological and psychological function of self-preservation.


Stoic thought regarding prayer, meets it with cold apathy and refusal to call upon a God of immediate communion and love. Fatalistic resignation dominates every philosophical and ontological question. Either lofty thoughts about a cold governing God of providence emerge or an inward focused impersonal mysticism. Stoicism in ethics would indicate that if a perfectly wise and virtuous man, is unable to prevent his young boy from say, getting violent hit and killed by a truck he should except the tragedy without any pain or distress.[3] On account that all things are governed by divine providence, his contentedness and personal serenity should not be upset. The stoic does the best he can by living a moral life and without complaint accepts all that may come his way. It is understood that the free and providential will of God is alone free. Furthermore, he is a corporeal God (Pantheism), ambiguous and present in nature and psyche.



It would seem hard to overestimate the influence of philosophical stoicism in every nook and cranny of modern religious sentiment. The disconnect between human creatures, their isolation and passive acceptance of violence, cruelty, is often rooted in this vague notion of a unity of divine substance whom works apart from any revelation. It is a popular confession in stoic-infused protestant churches in the face of tragedy to sternly blurt out “everything happens for a reason.” This is held to be a rather lofty and high-minded creedal statement. Although it is usually always piously and lovingly said it does nothing to put tragedy and human suffering into context. It makes God into a meaningless monster who arbitrarily reeks of death and havoc. God becomes an unknown supernatural bully who refuses to speak and walk with His creatures. The lament, as will be shown stands in radical contrast to the Stoic philosophy of an abandoning submission.


In Buddhism, suffering is worked out in karma, marked by perpetual incarnations that eventually climax into a state of nirvana. The Four Noble Truths are as follows, (1) All existence is suffering, (2) suffering arises from desire or craving, (3) cessation of desire means the end of suffering, (4) cessation of desire is achieved by following the Eight-fold Path, controlling one’s conduct, thinking, and belief. Suffering, therefore is the very basis of a religion whose only goal is to extinguish is through personal discipline. The other Eastern religions such as Taoism and Confusion, like Buddhism, do not assign meaning or purpose to suffering. They only postulate that it happens without cause, without rhyme or reason. Liberation is found not in any particular divinity but from one’s personal effort in developing right thinking and good deeds.




It is the Lutheran understanding that trials, testing, and spiritual attack (de tentationibus) cuts into deepest mysteries of the Christian faith. Christ’s holy church lives in His holy Passion narrative – from the depths of hell surrounded by stalking lions to the heights of heaven with angels and archangels. Pastoral care, meditation, prayer, and the liturgical life of the church proceed from the penetrating and universal affliction of suffering – the brokenness of sin. Paul writes that “sharing in his sufferings” is “being made conformable to Christ’s death” (Phil. 3:10). The fellowship is grounded in baptism where the old man “dies and “is crucified” with Christ. This death and crucifixion is not a theological abstract principle but an act that God performs, “that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sin and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God is righteousness and purity forever.” It is here where the church is conformed into a true death, rising into true life. Christ binding of himself to the church at the cross does not mitigate suffering but contextualizes it – making it work for good. As Bayer writes, “We do not escape testing and temptation because of our faith. Faith is rather the courage to endure the old world and to call upon God, certain that God will hear and answer even though he may at times seem not to do so.”[4] Luther in his undaunted comical way explains the irony of his own sufferings:


“Therefore, you see how David, in the Psalm mentioned, complains so often about all kinds of enemies, arrogant princes or tyrants, false spirits and factions that he has put up with because he mediates, that is, because he is occupied with God’s Word (as has been said) in all manner of ways. For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will plague you and make a real doctor of you, and by his attacks will teach you to seek and love God’s Word. I myself (if you will permit me, mere mouse-dirt, to be mingled with pepper) am deeply indebted to my papists that through the devil’s raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly god theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise. And I heartily grant them what they have won in return for making this of me, honor, victory, and triumph, for that’s the way they wanted it.”[5]


In this way we see that the prayer, meditation, and affliction (oration, meditatione, tentatione) are subsumed in the midst of suffering in a lifelong culture of lament. Suffering is not an element of theology, or a peripheral aspect of the Christian life but the very portal and way of the Christian life. This is certainly antithetical to mainline evangelicalism communities who come together around an “idolatry of praise,” “positive thinking,” and “self empowerment.” There exists a refusal to actively engage the “old world” and the very real tension that exists in the confrontation between the hidden God and God revealed in Jesus Christ. Gerhard Forde observes, “The fact is that the fear of an offense at the mutable necessity of God just will not go away. The thought that a God who is supposed to be pure goodness nevertheless rules through all tragedy and suffering by absolute necessity is exceedingly offensive.”[6]





Lament psalms are particularly scandalous to religious communities who are entrenched in an “idolatry of praise,” or where Christians are seen as “professional do-gooders.” The image of smiling Christians, hands help up high, praising God is misleading of the reality of the Christian life. Though praise and joy naturally proceed from Holy Absolution, the disjointedness of life and its countless contradictions of need and expectant hope in Christ are more characteristic of the Christian life than perpetual smiles and cozy feelings.


God acts according to human needs which are already eternally anticipated and eternally met. The creaturely voice in the lament psalm on pain is spoken because it is God’s business to meet the human complaint, “The children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:23-24). The imperatives in lament are addressed from the lowly and bound creature to heaven above in a startlingly daring act. In Luther’s hymn we sing, “O Lord, look down from heaven behold and let thy pity waken…Dark times have us o’ertaken.”[7] In this hymn, Luther clearly urges Christians to faithfully express a speech act – a demand on God, “Look down Lord…help us.” This necessarily means that God reacts and performs to the cry of his creatures, to the sounds of His church. In Paul Gerhardt’s lovely hymn, “Entrust Your Days and Burden,” the closing of the second stanza reads, “No self tormenting care can win your Father’s favor; His heart is moved by prayer.” How then are we to consider the personal and communal lament in the worship of the church? Does God coolly carry out his divine will, independent of man’s shriek of pain – his lament? Does prayer actually ‘do something?’ Or is it a personal and therapeutic exercise? Does it actually awaken God’s pity and help, His sure deliverance, and eternal love? Or does the human cry reverberate out in the dark abyss, outside the range of divine reception and answering?



In the prayers of lament, not one petition or cracked and discordant cry goes unanswered. The lament proceeds out of the depths. The cries and groaning are of the unredeemed creation, who longs for the calling forth of the new – adoption from our Father and redemption in our bodies (Rom. 8:23). Lament, from its great depth of distress moves in expectation and hope. It involves an audible crucifixion of the old man and new life in Jesus and neighbor. God is moved in lament and must help. He lacks a free will to save his church. He must do it. He promises to hear and answer those who call upon his name. Lament, with its disorientation, chaos, and suffering points to the suffering servant, the coming of the Lord who definitively identifies with and takes all suffering into himself.


In this way it is speech, the lament that breaks through the great abyss between man and God. Speech brings God in, mobilizing him to act. Lament speech is premised upon the covenant with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob but fully realized is the final testament in Christ’s cross, “O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent” (Ps. 22:2). One of the most important points that Walter Brueggemann in Israel’s Praise is that the linguistic exchange of lament psalms actually bring about a “new world by way of daring protest.”[8] He cites Ps. 13:1-2, here provided in the King James:

How long, wilt thou forget me, O Lord? For ever?
How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?


Brueggemann writes:

"How long indeed. I has been very long, seemingly an eternity. Now the speech explodes with having waited too long. All parties are surprised at the depth of the hostility. That hostility, however, is present both in the text and in the community. The opening speech is about God’s failure and neglect in the relationship.
The alienation and the rage have long festered in the silence. Now the speech erupts in indignation and urgency. For a long time things have not been right. Finally there is speech. The speech is on the tongue of the poet. Finally comes the poet to speak the rage and resentment that will tolerate no prosaic utterance. The indignation is not resigned. It is an act of insistence and of hope."

Brueggemann then comments on Ps. 39:7-10:

"Indignant hope is sounded because the speaker believes there is still this one to whom speech may be effectively addressed. There still is a serious conversation partner. In the very act of this speech, the world is already reshaped. It is reshaped with a chance of community and communion…There is speaking and a passionate conviction that there is listenening."[9]

There is actually something occurring. The communal and individual lament, petitions of complaint, seek to move God’s heart, and are therefore spoken in faith that God may be stirred and affected. The psalmist prays that God must act for the sake of his very name – for his honor, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake” (ps. 79:9). Bayer writes, “If God in his mercy, humbles himself – not only as savior, but already as Creator – then it is part of God’s own nature to let himself be petitioned. In his commitment to address the creature through the creature, God reveals himself not as inexorable fate, but at biddable.”[10] This understanding of prayer is radically different than the neo-protestant religious culture defined by “absolute dependence,” inherited from Schleiermacher. Life in the church is not about a feeling of dependence on a providential God, but is rather marked by the incarnate Christ who desires requests, petitions, and mere beggars.



The short form of lament is expressed in the liturgy as the great Kyrie eleison. Our present day litany with our Lutheran Service Book we chant the threefold Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. The Holy Scriptures are filled with the cry of eleison, which through the liturgy proceeds as a movement along with the introit, Gloria, and the collect. The Gallic Pilgrim Lady Egeria details the Jerusalem liturgy in 390, starting the at the end of Vespers:

“The bishop rises and stands before the rails, that is, before the cave, and one of the deacons makes the customary commemoration of individuals one by one. And as the deacon pronounces each name the many little boys who are always standing by, answer with countless voices : Kyrie eleison, or as we say Miserere Domine? And when the deacon has finished all that he has to say, first the bishop says a prayer and prays for all, then they all pray, both the faithful and catechumens together.”[11]


Pope Gelasius is credited (492-496 AD) with introducing the Kyrie-litany. The list of petitions in this litany correlates closely with the themes of the general prayer prior to Gelasius, “We are justified in concluding that Gelasius had removed the general prayer for the Church, and had substituted the Kyrie-litany.”[12] This original text, known as the Deprecatio Gelasii is exceedingly rich in scope, the 15th petition begging our Lord, “That our flesh may be free of blemish and our souls living in faith, Hear us, Lord, hear us.” In the Rule of St. Benedict the litania (or supplicatio litanie ed est Kyrie eleison) was part of the ending of every Daily Office and was used to introduce the Lord’s Prayer (true also for the LSB). In Lauds and Vespers, priest prayed a fuller litania, like that in the Deprecatio. Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) on certain days had the litany omitted and replaced by a nine-fold Kyrie eleison sung by itself. By the eighth century the nine-fold Kyrie was the standard practice in the western church.[13]


A great treasure of the Lutheran Service Book is its Litany (the Altar Book offers a musical setting). There is a ninefold invocation of Christos and Kyrios which serves as a prelude to the public orations of lament and petition. The litany is a gorgeous lament that plumbs the depths of the marks and Holy Mysteries of the church – incarnation, nativity, baptism, precious death and burial, and of course the resurrection. The eleison is orated as “Have mercy,” “Spare us, good Lord,” Hear us, O Lord,” and “Help us, good Lord.” The congregation asks for help in the hour of death, and mercy and deliverance for woman, children, and infants. The lament petitions with all confidence, “to beat down Satan under our feet.” The Lutheran Litany when prayed by a congregation sounds like a swelling symphonic lament. Even when spoken, the varieties of eleisons have a deeply harmonious quality about them, given the lyrical rhythm and drama which moves from pestilence and bloodshed, then concluding with a threefold Agnus Dei.


The litany can be used responsively in both informal and public worship settings. It is an inexhaustible pastoral tool for catechizing Christians into a theology of lament. It shapes worship practice – both public and private, along with family devotions, and steers one into a crucix theologia. The movement of the litany traces and creates a new relationship of faithfulness and confidence. It is spoken in a spirit of plea – of insistence that God will hear and act.



The Kyrie litany and other expressions of communal lament are indispensible in worship and pastoral care. The private laments, we may safely say find their identity in the corporate laments of the ecclesia. If Christians are starved of a theology of corporate lament in worship they will struggle to find a bold lament in private. Oswald Bayer speaks on the fragmented individuality of radical modernity, as a reaction against Lyotard’s meta-narratives. Law, evil, public guilt, and lament take on radically new interpretations based upon a culture of existentialism, “There is a threat of the diffusion of the self and finally of surrender and failure to recognize accountability and responsibility. The threat exists of the refusal to perceive the continuity of personal being.”[14]

A giant leap of faith has proceeded in regards to ontological questions as being solely guided and served by sociological and psychological studies. The human being is seen as a creature tossed about by nature and nurture, but nevertheless free, good, and capable for self-realization and fulfillment. In this way Bayer sees both modernity and postmodernity as antinomian, blending both an unsurpassed “pride of the individual “coupled with a “despairing existentialism.” The Law, however, has always been a supernatural and universal force which no individual or community can ever run from or free himself of.

“The human being is addressed through the Law: ‘Adam, where are you?’ (Gen 3:9); and, ‘Where is your brother?’ (Gen 4:9). Through the Law the human being is localized and individualized. Even if this human being – precisely according to modern and post modern transformation – no longer directly recognizes the one who speaks in the Law, perhaps, indeed, does not even hear a voice, he or she nevertheless experience more or less anonymously the inescapable demand: ‘Here you and no other are addressed. Here you are responsible. If you evade it, you are guilty.’ The human being is ultimately responsible…The unconditionality of the demand, which proceeds not merely from the fellow human being, but simultaneously arises within my conscience as the ‘interior court of judgment,’ is a reminder of the theological doctrine of the last judgment.”

God is constantly speaking his law and gospel and creatures continually hear it. In the existentialist “free from the I,” philosophical tradition, the human creature has trumpeted his spontaneity, free, and autonomy, but in his fleeing has run headfirst into the supernatural forces of the law, anxiety, and guilt. Bayer writes, “It is much more the massive experiences of guilt and sorrow, of responsibility and irresponsibility in the aporias of politics, economics and scientific ethics, which oppress us and confront us daily with the reality of evil.”[15] The present downturn in the U.S. economy has thrust the population into a feverish panic to figure out the mysterious reason why things have gone wrong. Every 24 news station features countless economic experts to decipher the workings of the economy, offering false hope and various schemes of bail outs and stimulus packages. Though, the country comparatively is drowning in prosperity, she remains the most dependent on anti-depressants and psychotropic drugs to navigate through each day. Public shame and guilt are wrought in the innermost caverns of the human heart which intuitively sees an abyss of moral failings – the neglect of the elderly, infanticide, and the violent ripping of marital bonds and familial obligations. The shriek of pain (a thoroughly misguided lament) seeks out every psychologist, sociologist, economist, spiritual counselor, and self-help guru to deliver them but they find no complete answer to their cry.


Pastoral care must meet the common experiences of guilt which plague the ecclesia. When Martin Luther passed from this earthly life, a shred of paper was found inside his coat pocket, in which he confessed, “We are all dying beggars, this is true.” This is a lovely cry of sorrow and grief. It is a confession of many things – that of guilt, helplessness, and ultimate dependence (not in the Schleiermacherian sense). Namely it is an admonition of guilt, a demonstrative final faithful grunt of justification by faith alone in Christ. Needless to say, it is a lament of the deplorative state apart from God’s incarnation into the world to justify the ungodly. The beggarly nature of the human creature is not a declaration of a cynic, but rather the starting point of human freedom. The beggar has nothing to declare of his own. He is clothed in shame, estranged from God, and sinful through and through. He has no claim of righteous work or property to call his own. His insistent plea is spoken in lament, and he is utterly helpless. His need is only found in the property, work, and charity of another. He needs the fleshly clothing of another, heavenly drink from another, the spoken words of forgiveness from another. It comes from outside (extra nos) by way of gift and enters in. Pastoral care begins by an analysis of the working of the law in a sinner’s life and diagnosing the cure in the Holy Gospel and its promise of life and salvation in Christ. From thence Pastoral care must insistently locate individual and corporeal affects of the law on the human heart. The Kyrie and liturgy of lament will always be treated and balanced with God’s law and gospel which he speaks throughout all times.
Pastoral care of the lament is not to hold one in perpetual despair but rather to keep them in disparagement of themselves. This is the working of the law and the loving chastisement of the heavenly Father. Only then can the creature humbly bow his head and pray, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of death” (Rom. 7:24). All laments seek to address a want of complaint and receive a need. The disparagement of “self” as “actor” and “giver” through the advent of faith ultimalty moves the human heart away from its self consumption and orients it outward toward an alien righteousness. The gaze of the lament therefore acknowledges the habitation of hell and human bondage but looks only to Christ’s cross.



In revivalist preaching salvation is a personal struggle not a free gift. Salvation is not found in the preaching of Christ or his sacraments but in “your walk with God” in which the fruits of the spirit are definitively demonstrated. How do you know you are saved? You act saved! By the fruits you will know! The objective of “self-realization” after World War II became the new trend in pastoral care in America, after an unprecedented level of economic wealth and prosperity. With Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the majority of people found physiological demands met. After safety, sense of belonging, and esteem goals were met one could now proceed to deeper matters – those of self fulfillment and transcendence. There began a cultural obsession with psychology as a means to transcendence. Holifield observes, “The new style of pastoral care seemed to blend with a resurgent ethic of self-realization. The postwar pastoral theologians maintained that pastoral care not only could alleviate pain but that it could enhance growth, nurture the development of the self’s hidden potentialities.”[16] In short all the problems and sufferings of the world were considered curable through proper psychiatric analysis. Pleas for social justice, peace, and tolerance were a cause of neurosis or ignorance – not sin or alienation from God. A sense of mastery over mental health and happiness was touted as the answer by the enormously popular Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Private meditations and envisioning projections of success were the key to ending stress and unnecessary worry. Holifield references Wayne Oats of Southern Baptist Seminary who summarizes this “cult of reassurance.” He writes, “The positive thinkers, he said, treated personality as a reflex mechanism subject to prudential ethics and wishful voluntarism; they ignored the self’s internal contradictions; they overlooked the necessity for people to accept their limitations; and they conceived of religion merely as a crutch to be used for narrowly personal benefits.”[17]

Perhaps nobody has had a greater impact upon pop spirituality than Paul Tillich. Tillich developed his "method of correlation" - an approach of deciphering the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to ontological questions raised by contemporary philosophical analysis. Regarding Tillich’s contribution, “No single idea was more important for the pastoral theologians than the idea of ‘acceptance,’ and the same idea also attracted the interest of the systematicians…he had developed a systematic ‘method of correlation,’ according to which the philosophical or psychological analysis of existence and the questions it raised shaped the form of the Christian answer presented by the theologian.”[18] Therefore all theological questions and theology were boiled down and sieved through a purely psychological and secularized vocabulary. Justification by grace through faith alone, for Tillich and his followers was simply rendered as making the “unacceptable accepted.” In the confusion and affliction of 1960’s counterculture this was an electrifying message for the revolutionary masses.

“You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything new; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accepted the fact that you are accepted! If that happens to us, we experience grace.”[19]

At Union Seminary in New York 1953 Paul Tillich preached, “The New Creation – this is our ultimate concern; this should be our infinite passion – the infinite passion of every human being. This matters; this alone matters ultimately. In comparison with it everything else, even religion or non-religion, even Christianity or non-Christianity, matters very little – and ultimately nothing.”[20] What is this new creation? It is merely acceptance, freedom, integration, and love.


Dr. Seward Hiltner, a Presbyterian minister and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary also became influential in the field of pastoral care, further infusing the suppositions of modern psychology into the work of the clergy. Riding on Tillich’s “transmoral conscience” and the Freudian notion of the superego as the suppression of fear and sexual and social need, Hiltner saw endless repression of impulsive and natural struggles. Holifield observes, “Hiltner argued that psychotherapy could well be considered analogous to a process of repentance in which the sinner directly confronted the ‘law-conscience,’ objectified it, and transcended it through a relationship that would produce a more rational and relevant ethical concern.”[21] Therefore, the revelation and eventual departure from the law is simply a matter of psycho-analysis, apprehended rationally by self-awareness and professional mediation.

The unavoidable contradictions and human limitations in psychotherapeutic theology elevates the human agent and confidence of self deliverance over and against the first commandment. The ethic of “self realization” is essentially self-deification, whereby the seeker attempts to find the divine spark within and salvation in and of oneself. The gaze of a psychological specialization of pastoral theology focuses itself on the inward chaos of the human heart, thereby seeking to make sense of the inward contradictions, largely apart from original sin and grace.


In Luther’s Small Catechism it is sin, death, and the devil which cut off man from God. That God in turn, guards and protects against all evil “without any merit of worthiness in me” teaches ultimately that man has no freedom in regards to salvation. He is justified freely through faith alone in Christ. His free will remains in earthly matters, completely despairing of his personal assent, from the depths of sheol to the heights of heaven. Therefore man is either bound to the devil or to God. It is then only God’s role to save. Only after God frustrates one of his own disciplinary will and work can the Gospel encounter man in his bitter cry. Luther provides an unforgettable illustration, “So man’s will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills…If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills.”[22] Man is incapable of saving himself from his looming death and defeat by the evil prince of this world – Satan and all his power.

It is utterly ridiculous to assert man has much say in the matter. As a matter of pastoral care, having parishioners “make a decision” for which rider they should mount will always terrify their conscience and keep them enslaved to the hellish nature of their own will – a will which always hides and screams a resounding “no thanks” to God. There whole life long they will wonder which horse they have jumped on. Am I riding with God or the Devil? Is my commitment strong enough? Am I doing God will? They will be racked through and through, right to the core, constantly evaluating if they are in a state of grace or not. The breaking of the human will through prayer, meditation, and daily suffering is necessary to position oneself to more humbly receive God’s free gift. It is only in God’s violent and ravishing claim in Christ crucified that the human heart is retrieved and recast in His own precious image.

Dualism must be set in its proper light however, when it comes to God and Satan’s competing claims on the human heart. The tension encountered must be approached in the confession that God is Lord of all and uses the devil for his own purposes. For God lets Satan loose on Job and sends all kinds of misfortune, suffering in body and soul, and death to humble the old man to despair in earthly work and turn to God alone. Only then can we begin to understand that the Lord God is a jealous God (Ex. 20:5). Luther writes to his dying Father John Luther, “This life, cursed by sin, is nothing but a vale of tears. The longer a man lives, the more sin and wickedness and plague and sorrow he sees and feels. Nor is there respite or cessation this side of the grave.”[23] Luther, in a letter to Queen Mary of Hungary, seeks to comfort her in her bereavement for King Lewis whom was killed in battle: “Almighty God has at this time visited you, not in anger or displeasure (as we have every reason to hope) but as a trial and chastisement in order that Your Majesty may learn to trust alone in the true Father who is in heaven and to be comforted by the true bridegroom, Jesus Christ, who is our brother and, indeed, our very flesh and blood, and in order that Your Majesty may find joy with you true friends and faithful companions, the dear angels, and who ever surround and care for us.”[24]

Luther’s pastoral care credits God with divine affliction. The benefits of “positive thinking,” as is understood today and no place in his pastoral care. The bondage of man in regards to salvation and free will puts a theology of lament in the very heart of pastoral care.
Lamenting the Tension of Experience and Promise

The discrepancy between human experience and expectation is the question of theodicy (question of existence of evil). The discrepancy is universal and the cure is Christological. Bayer’s observation of this tension is especially helpful as to how we develop and understand the necessity of lament in the life of the church,

Even the faith of the ‘just who live by faith’ is always a faith being tested. We cannot demonstrate the goodness and love of God. Believers especially cannot set aside the question, whether God is unjust. Because God’s love is never provable or free from doubt, believers live under testing and temptation. Faced with God’s hiddenness, they flee for refuge to God’s revealed promise, the light of the gospel, shining only through the Word and faith. Faith resists that other flight into a denial of God and into talk about blind chance and fortune. It cannot accept the Aristotelian metaphysics that influenced Hegel’s philosophy, with its understanding of world history as God’s justification. The skepticism of faith sobers down the forceful enthusiasm that tries to harmonize reality in the concept of unity, in the monarchical principle, for the cost of this is an ignoring of the misery, injustice, and suffering of the world. Luther could not agree with Aristotle or Hegel, and was of the same mind as Job and the prophets. Regarding the question of unrighteousness in God, they too, were tempted and assaulted.[25]

Therefore the Kyrie, as discussed earlier is not self-revelatory. The very fact that the Christian Church pleads to God, asking that He be merciful confesses that there is a rupture of human experience and God’s promise of life and salvation. If God’s mercy was intuitively grasped and apprehended we could very simply and definitively state “the Lord is merciful,” thereby having no need for the plea “Lord, have mercy!” The Christian lament, the plea of Job, Jeremiah and all the prophets does not live in a unified concept of God’s sure mercy. There is certainly a confession that his mercy is sure and endures forever, yet it proceeds alongside a plea that mercy should be given, thus indicating that mercy lies beyond the experiential comprehension. Furthermore, the lament, and the Holy Scriptures themselves address the unharmonious confrontation that man naturally faces with God. The entire biblical narrative does not skirt this very unharmonious confrontation. God’s revelation continually addresses the hearer who must throughout his earthly life consider the very real perception and proposition that God is not just or even present in an immediately merciful way. There exists a negative petition, a complaint against God that takes a variety of forms:

“Do not hide”: Ps. 27:9; 55:1; 69:17; 102:2; 143:7.
“Be not silent”: Ps. 109:1; 28:1; 39:12.
“Be not far from me”: Ps. 22:11; 35:22; 38:21; 71:12.
“Forsake me not”: Ps. 71:9; 38:21; 27:9, 12.
“Chasten/strike me not”: Ps. 6:1; 38:1; 39:10-11.
“Rebuke me not”: Ps. 6:1; 38:1; 39:11.
“Cast me not off”: Ps. 27:9, 51:11.
“Cast me not away from thy presence” (LSB Offertory p. 193).

These petitions to God in suffering both appeal to a prior and future event. The church sings, “Save me, God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing” (Ps. 69:1). There is a looking back with full assurance of God’s former loving kindnesses where there is plenteous redemption, as well as a looking forward to complete deliverance. In this way, the Christian is not called to accept the Hegelian conception of God’s justification in world history. Hegel understood that the goal of world history involves the process of the mind coming to understand itself as the ultimate reality.[26] Thus society through a consciousness of freedom can transcend all conflicts by a mystically led diffusion of the self to the mind. The common phrase of “mind over matter” taps into the root of Hegelian metaphysics that the finite can move beyond itself to the infinite. This is always the mission of the old Adam, to in our finitude discern God’s hidden works, or maybe more accurately stamp our own justification for our works into the map of world history. Yet, the search for meaning is most always the very path of idolatry as the personal ego becomes the internalized reference point for all existence. That “everything happens for a reason” in the Hegelian sense seeks a great justification that can be met in human knowledge. Yet, for most human creatures there is not a forced unity of soul that can transcend itself. The so called “rational” self conscious whole cannot comprehend the absolute and make a harmonious synthesis of the contradiction of experience and promise. The upright and blameless Job still must see the mangled bodies of his dead sons and daughters. He cannot transcend his loathsome sores and boils which he scrapes at while sitting in the ashes (2:7-8). In God’s terrifying hiddenness the affliction of Job continues with gruesome and unrelenting pain. He is rather verbally called into the conflict of faith and promise. He is invited to consider God’s injustice and hold him to His promise.

The Christian might go two ways, either taking refuge in God’s promise or fleeing to speculative theology - an inwardly investigative movement to interpret and discern God’s hiddenness. The process of fleeing to God’s promise does not manifest itself in a euphoric unquestioning faith, wholly trusting in God’s sovereign will. Living by faith is lived in paradox – in testing and purifying, “As silver tried by fire is pure – From all adulteration, So thro’ God’s Word shall men endure each trial and tribulation. Its light beams brighter thro’ the cross, And purified from human dross, It shines through every nation.”[27] Yet, though we are children of light confessing Christ we still live lives of spiritual warfare and affliction. Living in the light of the Gospel does not provide a key to interpret the inner-workings of God as if we had become Lord’s over him. The life of faith is still lived in darkness – amidst chaos, wailing and crying. As disciples we must continually ask, “Lord how should we pray.” By praying our Lord ’s Prayer the lament proceeds as a insistent and infant-like petition, “Deliver us from evil.” Christ comes to reveal evil not simply to destroy it. The spiritual warfare that surrounds the groaning creation only becomes evident after the Christian is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The question of theodicy is not definitively answered in an empirically satisfying way but is rather confessed amidst the trials of spiritual ware in the voice of lament. Bayer writes:
The question of theodicy cannot be answered either actively with Kant or speculatively with Hegel. It can be resolved neither speculatively nor morally; it cannot be resolved in any way. We have to deal with it practically by experiencing it in meditation (hearing and learning the Bible), in affliction, and in prayer. The passive righteousness of faith does not conduct a debate about God and God’s righteousness, as does the natural, the redeemed, or presumably already glorified reason before its own forum. It conducts a dispute with God in prayer and lament.[28]
Bayer notes that the biblical question “why must the righteous suffer?” is the very foundation of atheism” - quoting Act III of the play Dantons Tod: “Why do I suffer? This is the rock of atheism. The slightest spasm of pain, just one atom, causes a rent in creation that runs from top to bottom.”[29] The presence of suffering and God’s hidden face (69:17) confronts man in his heart with the possibly that God is not “for them” or simply absent altogether. Walter Kaufman (1921-1980), after leaving the Lutheran Church became a professor philosophy at Princeton University and wrote a polemic against the notion of a just and omnipotent God in The Faith of a Heretic. He cites Job as an ally, “Job’s forthright indictment of the injustice of this world is surely right. The ways of the world are weird and much more unpredictable than either scientists or theologians generally make thing look. Job personifies the inscrutable, merciless, uncanny in a god who is all powerful but not just…”[30] Kaufmann, as an atheist, in his analysis of suffering finds the Christian conception of God’s mercy and benevolence irremediably flawed. Kaufmann, of course does not deal with the broader narrative of Job, who also says, “For I know that my redeemer liveth!” (Job. 19:25). Kaufmann’s compulsory and short sighted reading of Job is not simply the utterance of an atheist but a natural and physiological reaction to a “God that does not always appear an awesome God.”[31] This is a not a fleeting perception for a Christian, but an inevitable one confronted in tension. Like Job, the Christian life is filled with affliction with boils of affliction from the soles of our feet to our crown. The congregation also finds herself in the ash pile with a potsherd to scrape our own wounds, to curse her birth in the blindness of sin. The working and creation of faith however must be seen in this relationship – that God wounds and binds together. That human flesh is healed in Christ’s promise does not remove the voice which cries out, but rather meets it. Job’s questions, complaints, and cursing against God are not interruptions in Job’s “faith journey” but poetic affirmations of God’s mercy. He knows that worm eaten skin is not his end. Yet as a man of flesh and blood he must still deal with unspeakable terror and pain, for he remains with a man whose skin is actually being eaten away! He cannot simply ignore his horrible affliction or contradiction. Likewise, the church remains in pain. Suicidal ideation is not disconnected from sublime faith but is subsumed into its broader confession, “So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life” (7:15). In turn this longing for death – this lament, jealously meets God in his promise, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God…thou my reins be consumed within me.” (19:27). When the church confesses the historic creed of the church, looking for the resurrection of the dead, there is always fearful consumption within. Pastoral care of lament provides the diagnostic voice to meet God in this tension.

Though all creatures surely suffer, man’s lament proceeds from an intuitive awareness that something has gone horribly awry. The human creature, God’s crown of creation desperately cries out into the unfamiliar dark abyss, knowing through both natural knowledge and Scripture that “things are not the way they are supposed to be.” There is too much darkness, strife, and anguish. There is too much depression, hopelessness, and pain. There is wretched neglect and abandonment of the elderly, infanticide of the unborn and perpetual war in nearly every land. The human condition ultimately can only be believed from the revelation of the Scriptures.[32] The total corruption of nature in men makes us all children of wrath, ultimately bringing the penalty of sin, death, and the devil. The Holy Scriptures ultimately reveal the penalty of sin, death, and the devil – and God’s wrath against all ungodliness.

“This solution to the problem does not resolve our laments. It keeps them awake and also gives us a passionate hope that in the consummation of the world, God will finally vindicate himself and answer our laments in a way that leaves no further room for testing and temptation.”[33] In this way, as Bayer suggests, lament is itself the answer to theodicy. The incomprehensible righteousness of God is received by way of gift and holy mystery. In the voice of lament a creature expresses his “creatureliness” and remains a creature and God remains our dear Father who withholds nothing. Ultimately the Father’s will is revealed as merciful through the blood of his very Son, “For God can do nothing else; He must help the man who cries and calls…For hell would neither be nor remain hell if someone who is in it were to call out to God for help.”[34]




"O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24)Saint Paul’s lament addresses the life of tension met in objective justification. Becoming accustomed to Christ’s justification does not dispel of the old man but continues the war against him. On this side of the grave the old villain cannot be dispelled through any variety of mental machinations, no matter how rigorous the prayer life. The lament honestly addresses the tension between the sinner and saint, reconciling it, or better yet resting it, in Christ’s cross. Though all of humanity surely suffers, the baptized Christian truly begins his battle and cry for mercy after he emerges from Christ’s holy waters. For he emerges as a member of Christ’s militia – a soldier of the cross. This mirrors Christ’s temptation after his own baptism where he was confronted by Satan with all of his lies and temptations. Likewise, in the life of the church every Christian is assaulted, tormented, and burdened by constant sin and Satan’s accusations. Lament takes place as a necessary communication between the old man and the baptized saint in Christ. 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 in this 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 have been freely justified in Christ; the battle decisively won, 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, 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 inner workings 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.



Walter Brueggemann in his treatment of the Psalms classifies their types in a threefold arrangement of “psalms of orientation,” “psalms of disorientation,” and “psalms of new orientation.” “Psalms of orientation” evoke gratitude and constant blessings, articulated in joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God – in both creation and law. These hymns are expressed as operative certitudes. The Psalmic community finds life to be God ordained through revelation and promise. The faithful response is gratitude and thanksgiving – a truly natural movement in the human heart in which faith grasps forgiveness. Brueggemann describes this orientation, “In these psalms we enter into the religious sensitivity and life experience of those who know life to have congruity, symmetry, and proportion. They are those whose “lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Ps. 16:6). This means they have ended up with the best land, and so find it not difficult to live a life of gratitude.”[35]

The human condition which encounters wrath, alienation, hatred, terror and immense suffering – both physical and spiritual must also be dealt with. It is here where we can rightly understand Luther’s Small Catechism, calling upon God’s name in every “trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” If we call upon the name of our Lord in Calling upon the Lord’s name in trouble ought not be seen simply as a gentle plea to God. For Bayer the Christian’s petition to God, with assurance of being heard and answered “lives in shameless insistence” before God.[36] The petition can take the form of an unruly and hasty complaint. It can be shortsighted and selfish – in short it can be downright sinful. Calling upon God’s name in trouble does not need to be done in a premeditated and carefully considered pious reaction. It can be “shameless” and “insistent” It might well sound obnoxious and faithless to our own pious ears or irreverent to our theological imaginations. The indictment against God in Psalms such as 74 and 79 that deal with the destruction of the sanctuary, are so unrelenting it seems the whole point is to in fact irritate the Lord God of hosts. Regardless, the lament of disorientation “calls a thing what it really is” to quote Luther’s 21st thesis of his Heidelberg Disputation.

Psalms, hymns, and preaching that meet the Christian in his deep and immeasurable disorientation deals with reality. Pastoral care of the lament evokes and exposes the disorientation from sin, death, and the devil that cripples every human heart. Thousands of diagnoses have been sort forth to meet this disorientation in psychology, therapy, and pop spirituality. However, when the Lord speaks regarding his law and gospel all modern prescriptions become vain when the sinner is exposed in lament – a lament which he has owned and lived since the womb.

Many people who leave the church have a common reflection on their decision. It often deals with wanting to find honesty, comfort, and healing but instead find phoniness, contradiction, and another social network that appears just as disingenuous as any other. Apart from a liturgical culture of lament, it is easy to be sympathetic with the exodus of Christians from corporate worship. If a theology of suffering – a theology of the cross is lacking parishioners will only see false happy faces, false piety, and awkward superficiality. Bonhoeffer writes:

On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life [Zusammenleben] should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate with others, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. By sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exalted moods that sweep over us like a wave of rapture. For God is not a God of emotionalism, but the God of truth. Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. (Bonhoeffer, p.35).

Bonhoeffer taps into the disillusionment of a Christian community, whose goal is to either “feel,” “do,” or “know” their way into God’s peace based upon a presupposed idea of “church.” The emotions and bliss that often come along with the introduction to a Christian community lasts until the fa├žade of orientation crashes down. Real sinners are found with real disorientation. Real suffering turns into real despair and all of a sudden the praise songs no longer comfort but only ridicule and alienate the lost sinner. Why is everybody around me so happy? Why I am so depressed? How come I am not loving God? Bruggemann has this observation about Christian communities who are transfixed in an idolatry of praise, “It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life.”[37]



By praying Psalm 22 the church is confronted with Christ’s New Testament which grasps the action of God in his mystery – his hiddeness in affliction unto death and salvation unto life. In Christ’s passion he cries “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” from the cross. Citing the first words of the psalm, in the tradition of the time, meant not that a single verse was recited, but more likely that entire psalm, or whole Psalter. The lament of Christ and His Church is given here. There is a lucid and comprehensive creed of God’s work that proceeds from this lament, that of creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. Delitzsch writes, ““We have here a plaintive Psalm, whose deep complaints, out of the midst of the most humiliating degradation and most fearful peril, stand in striking contrast to the cheerful tone of Ps. 21 – starting with a disconsolate cry of anguish, it passes on to a trustful cry for help, and ends in vows of thanksgiving and a vision of world-wide results, which spring from the deliverance of the sufferer. In no Psalm do we trace such an accumulation of the most excruciating outward and inward suffering pressing upon the complainant, in connection the most perfect innocence.”[38] The desolate yet fully trustworthy cry for help, “My God why hast though forsaken me” forms the paradigmatic lament of the whole Christian Church. That God is “my God” is a full confession of complete trust in the Father and the work of the Son, for the Christ himself prays this. At times feeling forsakenness, while calling upon God as “Holy Father” - “my Father,” is the deepest thrust of handing over of Christ and his faith. Only in the crucifixion, in the forsakenness of the innocent one, can the baptized cry out “My God,” “dearest Father, help me!”


God is creator who clothes his creatures from the womb with flesh and bone. He is maker of the heavens and the earth. Likewise, he is the creator and giver of faith to infants (vv. 9) – to Christ as he lay on His mother’s breasts. God creatively works salvation and faith in his creatures when they are utterly helpless and completely dependent upon a mother to nurse and feed. There exists no litany of good deeds for the helpless to rely and fall back on, “I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (vv. 10). This is only the faith of our Lord which is creatively worked in us. Christ and His church pray this in unity, in that Christ casts Himself unto the church – captivating us from the womb when the Holy Gospel is spoken and given. That life and salvation are defined creatively, puts the young and helpless – all people – into His hands, “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; there is none to help” (vv. 11). Life therefore begins in merciful bondage to God. For only, here can freedom be planted in Christ’s cross. Life does not begin by being violently cast out of the womb of life, to sever the cords of the interconnectiveness of God’s love – with life and gifts outpouring from him. Gentle and earthly flesh cannot free himself of God, to “choose,” “will,” “know,” or “create” anything whatsoever. That life begins in merciful bondage, with complete dependence upon God for nourishment from a mother’s breasts, along with life and salvation puts the creature in lament. He must despair first through the natural crucifixion of the old man, who daily arises alongside the new, constantly battling for self-justification and recognition. In the rhythm of the baptismal life, God will frustrate and hinder all attempts of the man who seeks to justify himself over and against God’s gracious gift. Through the preaching of the law and Gospel, the creature is struck down continually and graciously by the hand of the Father, and put forthright unto the bosom of Mother Church. Only here can we understand our Lord’s words, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). To fear, love, and trust in God above all things involves the crucifixion of the human will, and transfiguring of the “mature” Christian into that of a child.

The lament in Psalm 22 chronicles the Christ as redeemer who reclaims the confounded through pierced hands and feet, with his holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death (vv. 16). There is forsakenness (vv. 1-2), to be rejected and despised of the people (vv. 6), a pouring out of life (vv. 14-15), with life threatening disorientation (vv. 11, 19-20). It is completely terrifying - the crushing blows of cosmic anarchy descend upon human flesh. The Lord hears every cry and saves the church from the lions’ mouth – saves sinners from sin, death, and the devil (vv. 21). When the church prays this psalm the whole community of saints brings the most dreadful sufferings of the world to God. Jesus joins the great multitudes in their lament becoming one with them, in turn taking all their affliction and sin into his very body, “David descends, with his complaint into a depth that lies beyond the depth of his affliction, and rises with his hopes, to a height that lies far beyond the height of the reward of his affliction.”[39] The Davidic king, Jesus descended into hell and was raised on the third day for the forgiveness of sins. The lament is God’s own son, through who He loves us. His heart melting is his burning anguish, the dreadful scorching of wounds, dreadful wrath in heart and head – the pain of crucifixion, “so marred was His appearance, that He no longer looked like a man” (Is 52:14). The final petition for deliverance comes in verse 21, “save me from the lions mouth,” or the great Kyrie, or “deliver us from evil.”

In this lament the sufferer feels himself rejected of God; wrath has enveloped him but he remains in fear, love, and trust in God, “My God, my God.” From the lowest depths of hell, “Why hast Thou Forsaken me? In this cosmic tension, the hidden God makes manifest all his mercy. Beyond this divine wrath is hidden love of God which only faith can grasp. In the midst of wrath, pain, and affliction, communion with God is not disturbed by the complaint, by the hasty and sorrowful lament. Psalms that address the disorientation of every human heart keep affliction fixed in Christ who lays down his life on His own accord. This mercy is realized and communicated in lament, where God asks and dearly desires to meet us.


As the lament is prayed, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (vv. 18). The old and evil man is put to a sure and certain death here in the crucified Lord. As our Lord is crucified naked, his garments are cast off from our horrid sin in the Garden. The new man is naked, the church unblemished, now wrapped in the flesh of Christ. The lament if answered in the second half of the 21st verse, “for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns,” and the congregation erupts in to praise and thanksgiving. There is an apocalyptic change in the lament between the 21st and 22nd verse. Something has happened – a new state of affairs has been thrust into the church, the Lord is praised for what he has done.

“Save me from the lions mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”
“I will declare thy name unto my bretheren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee”

This is the apocalyptic moment that defines eternity. In this lament there is forsakenness, scorn, and hell. Proceeding from it, faith grasps God’s promise, “He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (vv. 8). The delight God finds in his Son at Jordan is eternally realized in the crucifixion. Christ glory is manifest here. The forsakenness and suffering of pierced hands and feet is a matter within God himself. The estrangement, agony, and sin are dealt with through flesh, “But I am a worm; a reproach of men, and despised of the people (vv. 6). There is a complete separation – a total breach, yet never an interruption of faith, claimed in lament, the boldest of all confessions, “My God.”

The church speaks petitions of complaint, holding faith to faith in Christ who gives all things. The church is bathed in holy waters, being sanctified in Christ, in the midst of the congregation (vv. 22), where he forgives sin (vv. 31) and gives his Holy Supper (vv. 26). There is an eternal hymn of praise and celebration of God’s work in the midst of the congregation (vv. 22-31). The Psalmist therefore provides a catechetical movement that preaches God as creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. This is the paradigmatic model for hymnody, where God’s work is preached in its fullness, and the theology of lament moves throughout as a recounting of both God’s prior and final act for the church in his cross. The movement of lament and particularly psalm 22 in the church’s life ought not be seen as a linear movement in the life of a Christian, such as one could say “once I was lost but now am found.” The amazing grace of the baptismal life of repentance and forgiveness are not static and punctiliar events for the Christian but mark the very cadence of his walk from death to life. The act of crucifixion and God’s wrath taken into himself – this lament – is itself the battle cry that devours death and lays waste to Satan’s power. This cry is proclamation and an act of creation. Isaiah writes:

I will cry like a travailing woman, I will destroy and devour at once.[40]
I will make waste mountains and hills,
And dry up all their herbs:
And I will make the rivers islands,
And I will dry up the pools.
And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not;
I will lead them in paths that they have not known:
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked things straight
These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.
They shall be turned back,
They shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images,
They that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods.” (Is. 42:b-17).

One cannot help but think of the opening Psalm 22 (Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani) and the crucifixion of our Lord. Most remarkable is that the earth shaking action is set forth from a cry – a lament. The cry of a woman in labor is the expression of the justifying act in God. New life and forgiveness of sins is birthed as an organic remaking of creation. The cry of the travailing woman is itself the speech function which performs and breaks the silence between creator and creature. The paths become straight, the darkness becomes light, and the blind see. Prior to this cry of God it was Eve who was charged by the law, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). Now it is God’s lament, His own speech act that makes children from stones. Passive repentance in the Christian heart is born from God’s word and faith is created where and when it pleases him.



Our Lord is often filled with lament. At a lepers confession Jesus is “moved with pity” (Mark 1:41). Upon entering Jerusalem he wept upon thinking of the fate of those who refuse him (Luke 19:41). There is anguish in his heart – a desire that all should come to him – an invitation that ultimately will be rejected by many. Jesus wept for Lazarus (Jn. 11:35), and lamented the deliverance from the pits of hell that was to take place in the great redemptive act (Eph. 5:7). Christ’s ministry does not proceed in isolated admonitions and miracle accounts but also involves an outpouring of sighs, laments, tears, and supplications. The Son of God who reveals the Father’s heart is wholly incapable of being emotionally disjointed from his creation, and each individual inhabitant. We might say his eyes are utterly consumed of grief (Ps. 6:7). Grief is borne out of God’s incarnation into the world to proclaim peace, but ultimately to be despised and rejected. He sighs and laments for his wayfaring creation and it weeps and laments back. In turn he incarnates that he might grant mercy to all that call upon his name. The calling, the waiting, the coming, the answering, and restoring – the great redemptive act does not move without great physical tremors. The communicative binding between God and man is a corporeal and audible cry. The death cry of Christ on the cross is itself a vehement shriek (krazo), an unintelligible disturbance that shakes the earth. The sum and substance of the lament is realized here at God’s shriek which answers the pain and groaning of all creation. The declarative cry of mercy is God’s eternal wail that not only identifies with creation but takes the place of every sinners cry. The atonement is not a silent phenomenon but an audible cracking and rupture. The forgiveness of sins and therefore life and salvation pour forth from this rupture. Christ’s continues his work in the church by the preaching of his Holy Gospel and the feeding His Holy Supper.



Sin lives on in the Christian congregation. The old Adam rages on in his tyranny and plagues the community all the day, “The devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the faith.” Pastoral care must meet the congregation head on in their tension between the promise in Christ and the discrepancy between expectation and experience. Spiritual care must not be dedicated to helping the person overcome their suffering or to transcend it, but must meet them there in the midst of the battle to equip them with the holy gifts that are given to the church. Suffering is common to the Christian life and is not inconsequential. Suffering actually means something. Spiritual distress, doubt, and temptation are not evil in and of themselves but take on a positivistic movement when they proceed from the faith that God freely gifts toward the creature. In this spiritual distress – the great chasm between the old and new man, between unmet expectation and promise the creature lives in the faith of Christ. This faith is the forgiveness of sins. And where this is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation and nothing is lacking in heaven or on earth. The advent of faith and all the gifts of life and salvation does not mean that the church is plunged into an ecstatic and harmonious unity but rather only deeper and deeper levels of spiritual angst and disunity. The promise of being rescued from sin, death, and the devil is met by an exponentially numerating assault of sin, death, and the devil. The sanctification of the church, is simply marked by a familiarization with objective justification in Christ which necessarily only encounters an increasing discrepancy between the bitterness of sin that increases with knowledge of the law and God’s promise in the Gospel. Individual and communal sin in the life of the church are to be lamented and not probed for answers. The liturgical life of lament must always point to absolution which is God’s own resolution and holy word which mediates all suffering. Bayer notes that Luther’s great reformational hermeneutical breakthrough is the discovery that in the life of the church the signum itself is already the res, “Signum philosophicum est nota absentis rei, signum theologicum est nota praesentis rei” [The philosophical sign is the mark of something that is absent; the theological sign is the mark of something present].[41] Therefore, God’s address - that of Holy Absolution “Ego te absolve!” actually accomplishes precisely what it say. It’s declarative and final. A worship life of lament is not only expressive of the spiritual significance of a life lived in holy absolution but is actually creative of the very life that takes root in its petitions of complaint and claims against God. Recovering a liturgical life of lament in pastoral theology honestly reestablishes the emotive sigh between creator and creature and allows the creature to rest peaceably in a life plea and petition. That all petitions before being uttered have eternally been met does not invalidate the plea but legitimizes it and realizes it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the sanctorum communion as being marked by a pastoral care which is fixed only in God’s promise, such that the lament can proceed as a comprehensive creed of faith. Unlike Hegelian transcendence and existentialist escapism, Pastoral care thrusts a Christian into the midst of his suffering to let Christ and Christ alone mediate between his or her suffering where he continually works repentance and salvation. Bonhoeffer writes:
In spiritual care, God wants to act. In the midst of all anxiety and sorrow we are to trust God. God alone can be a help and comfort. The goal of spiritual care should never be a change of mental condition. The mission itself is the decisive element, not the goal. All false hope and every false comfort must be eliminated. I do not provide decisive help for anyone if I turn a sad person into a cheerful one, a timid person into a courageous one. That would be secular – and not real – help. Beyond and within circumstances such as sadness and timidity it should be believed that God is our help and comfort. Christ and his victory over health and sickness, luck and misfortune, birth and death must be proclaimed. The help he brings is forgiveness and new life out of death.[42]


The Lutheran Pastor will face continued pressure to become a cheap tool for personal self empowerment and fulfillment. He must speak honestly about the nature of suffering, which no human will or intellect can overcome. The tension between experience and promise must be met in the lament which can call a thing what it really is. The church must honestly speak the language of lament making a home in the Psalter, which provides the very vocabulary to navigate the spiritual life of God’s past, present, and future work.
[1] WA 36:560.9-10.
[2] Negative Dialectics (1966), Theodore W. Adorno, trans. E. B. Ashton, New York: Seabury Press, 1973. (GS 6)
[3] example adapted from A.A. Long, Hellenic Philosophy, University of California Press; 2 edition, 1986, p. 197-198)
[4] Bayer, Living by Faith, p. 77.
[5] AE 34:286.
[6] Gerhard Forde, Captivation of the Will, p. 51.
[7] Martin Luther, “O Lord Look Down from Heaven Behold,” The Lutheran Hymnal, #260.
[8] Walter Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Idealogy (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), p. 141.
[9] Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise, p. 145.
[10] Oswald Bayer, Toward a Theology of Lament, p. 214.
[11] Full text of Pilgrimmage of Etheria found here http://www.archive.org/stream/pilgrimageofethe00mccliala/pilgrimageofethe00mccliala_djvu.txt
[12] Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Benzinger Brothers, New York, 1959), p. 191.
[13] Thompson, Michael J, “Key Words in Church Music: Kyrie Eleison (CPH, Saint Louis, 2004, p. 375.
[14] Bayer, Oswald, “With Luther in the Present: The Diagnostic Power of Reformation Theology,” Presentation to the Evangelische Akademie Sachsen-Anhalt in Wittenberg on October 30, 2004, translated by Mark A. Seifrid.
[15] Bayer, “With Luther in the Present: The Diagnostic Power of Reformation Theology,” p. 8.
[16] Holifield., 260.
[17] Holifield., 267.
[18] Holifield 328-329.
[19] Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955), p. 162.
[20] Paul Tillich, The New Being (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955), p. 19.
[21] Holifield., p. 281.
[22] Luther, Martin, Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids: Baker), p. 107.
[23] Martin Luther, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, trans. Theodore G. Tappert, (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing), p. 32. This letter was written Feb. 15, 1530 and sent to Father John Luther in Mansfield, Germany. John Luther died three months after this letter was written.
[24] Ibid., 58.
[25] Living by Faith., 79.
[26] Desmond, William, Hegel and his Critics: Philosophy in the Aftermath of Hegel (Albany, NY, 1989), p. 103.
[27] Luther, Martin. O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold (stanza 5). The Lutheran Hymnal.
[28] Bayer,Oswald. Living by Faith: Justification and Santification. Lutheran Quarterly Books. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 77.
[29] Ibid., 70.
[30] Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic (Garden City, Doubleday, 1961), p. 181.
[31] Quote taken from John T. Pless at lecture on 12/01/08
[32] Smalcald Articles Kolb p. 311
[33] Living by Faith., p. 79.
[34] WA: 19, 222
[35] Walter Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms, 27.
[36] Bayer, Toward a Theology of Lament, 212
[37] Walter Brueggemann, Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg Old Testament Studies; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984).
[38] Carl Friedrick Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. (Peabody, MA:Hendrickson, 2002), 5:191
[39] Carl Friedrick Keil and Franz Delitzsch, p. 194.
[40] ESV translates as “I will gasp and pant.”
[41] Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, p. 52.
[42]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care, trans. Jay C. Rochelle (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 30.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Office of the Keys


The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent. The Christian congregation by the command of Christ calls Pastors to carry out the Office of the Keys publicly in His Name on behalf of the congregation. The Pastoral Office is a Divine Institution. The Office of the Keys proceeds from Jesus’ ministry where today he continues to teach, feed, and heal his people.


First time visitors are sometimes taken back when seeing confession and absolution at a Lutheran Service. They might say, “How can that pastor up there forgive these people in the pews?” Yet, it is not merely the voice of the man who serves as Pastor but rather the word of God. Our Lutheran Confessions say, “It is not the voice of word of the man who sepaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command” (AC XXV.3).


In Mark 5:20-21 the Pharisees and scribes question Jesus saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” The questioned the authority of Jesus. Yet, here he is! The long expected Messiah has come to forgive sins and cleanse from all unrighteousness. Jesus has given the authority to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in His name. He speaks this forgiveness through human vessels – through his Pastors. When we receive absolution it is surely the words of God in heaven.

We can be absolutely sure that the confession spoken to the pastor, who holds the office of keys, will not tell anyone of your sins. In the ordination vow of a pastor, he promises never to divulge that which is spoken to him in the care of confession and absolution. Consider Ps. 103:12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us."

General Confession


Speaking the General Confession at the Divine Service brings us into the corporate life of forgiveness that takes place within the church. The Christian life of repentance, confession, and absolution is not solely an individual matter between “God and I” but also between Jesus and His church. Confession and Holy Absolution therefore is also a “communal event,” marked by a community who comes together both acknowledging and hearing God’s word of forgiveness.


In the Lord’s Prayer we pray in the fifth petition, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is here where our Lord makes clear that He wants us live together in continuous confession and absolution. The Christian community both speaks this word to one another in the daily life of forgiveness and hears it from God himself when he speaks through the Pastor.


We can understand this continuous flow of forgiveness coming from the font of Holy Baptism which “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”


We are also called to forgive those who sin against us because as Christians we have received this heavenly gift. We may do this whenever we are granted the opportunity and may also speak this word of forgiveness in our daily prayer life.


At the prayer office of Compline we are presented with an opportunity to receive this gift in the following way. After the opening versicles we may speak:


I confess to Almighty God, before the whole company of heaven, and to you, bretheren, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault. Wherefore I pray God Almighty to have mercy on me, forgive me all my sins, and bring me to everlasting life.

The Almighty and merciful Lord grant us pardon, absolution, and remission of our sins. Amen.