Psalms of Lament

Day 27/30

The best thing about hosting a podcast is the people I get to meet. It’s amazing who’ll agree to be a guest on a podcast – folks with whom I’d otherwise have no business talking with.

Today our guest was Dr. Amy Cottrill, Religion Professor at Birmingham Southern. I met her a few months ago when she came on to help us get over that Leviticus-sized wall. Today we were talking about the Psalms of Lament.

A few things worth noting…

The psalms of lament are guttural. They’re meant to be felt and prayed – not analyzed. But beware. It won’t be happy feelings. That’s why Psalm 6 “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” isn’t read to open worship.

The psalmist obviously wasn’t taught reverence in the same churches I grew up in. Psalm 82 asks God: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” Can you imagine accusing God of partiality and injustice? The Bible gives A LOT of room to say very hard things to and about God.

Finally, like Jesus said, the psalmist prayed for his enemies. But I don’t think “Break the teeth of these fierce lions, O God. May they disappear like water draining away; may they be crushed like weeds on a path. May they be like snails that dissolve into slime; may they be like a baby born dead that never sees the light.” is what Jesus had in mind.

That led to a great conversation about appropriate times and contexts for scripture.

Satan quoted the Psalms to Jesus. Job’s friends bludgeoned him with Deuteronomy. Even within scripture we see passages that in other contexts are good and life-giving, in the wrong situation become weapons.

Which raises a big question; When is it appropriate to pray for God to “crush our oppressors”?

And the answer is in the first half of the sentence from which that last quote was taken. Here’s the whole verse, Psalm 72:4: “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Prayers to crush the oppressor are absolutely appropriate coming from the oppressed.

This kind of prayer may be foreign to you.

But they’re not foreign to some communities. Go back and read the lyrics to old spirituals or to MLK’s sermons. They’re laced with Psalms of Lament. If you’ve never heard them read in your church, realize just how little incentive there is for those benefitting from the system to read these passages out loud. Afterall, church should be uplifting, right? Like a Disney musical.

Most of scripture was written by the oppressed, those in exile, exodus or wilderness. To understand it we need to understand oppression. And to do that we need to experience oppression – or at least walk alongside those who do.

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