Our country is in pain. A series of inexplicable killings, including five police officers in Dallas, has occurred this week. Many of us are anxious and hurting. All of us are confused.
When faced with this type of national crisis we may find it difficult to turn to our Comforter in prayer. We are used to going to God with our requests, but this time seems different. We are mired in sorrow and pain and can’t get past the question that haunts us: “How could God let this happen? Where is he when our country needs him?”
The book of Lamentations opens with a similarly bewildered and mournful query. Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians and God seemed to pay no attention to the cries of the suffering survivors. In their pain they cry out, ““See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within” (Lamentations 1: 20).
This book takes it’s name from lament, a song of mourning or sorrow. Laments may be occasioned by bereavement, personal trouble, national disaster, or the judgment of God. Throughout the Old Testament, and especially in the Psalms, we find lamentations that can serve as model for how we can respond in prayer in times of crisis.
Here are some suggestions for how to use such passages as guides:
Don’t strip away the context
There is a temptation to pick and choose a particular verse, metaphor, or image of lament, remove it from it’s context, and then apply it to our own situation. This is generally the wrong way to handle Scripture. While our context may not be the same as the context of a particular Bible passage, we can use the lamentation as a guide for creating our own personalized response to God. As John D. Witvliet says, we can “work with the basic psalm forms we have learned to discern, and then, like a jazz soloist who embellishes a musical theme, that we improvise in the context of our particular tragedy.”