The Preparatory Function of Public Lament in the Psalter

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Ellen T. Charry commenting on lament, its place in worship, and its incorporation into the Psalter:

Pedagogically speaking, the laments are warranted for public worship because everyone eventually experiences personal defeat of some kind and comes face-to-face with the searing question of theodicy. The theological pedagogy of these poems both prepares and shapes the community to confront the questions of theodicy and empire openly in order to sustain Israel’s fundamental conviction that the God of Israel is the one and only God of the universe. That is, public worship is not an end in itself. Its design on the hearts and minds of the worshipers is to carry them faithfully through thick and thin…The poets know how difficult faithfulness can be, and their poems meet people where they are.

Psalms 1-50, p. xxv-xxvi

The Psalter contains lament, and more besides. Most look to Psalms to aid them in praise. But lament, too, has formative value. Even if one has not suffered, suffering will come. It is part of the human experience. If Christian fellowships incorporated lament as part of their discourse, perhaps more believers would be better prepared when the challenges and hardships of life arrive. They would know they are not the first to suffer, they will not be the last, and that like those who walked before them, they can offer their complaints in prayer to God and look, in hope, for divine help.

Discern, then Respond

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