It’s generally accepted that the Psalms should help shape the worship of the church. When early Christian communities came together, singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” was an essential element of their gatherings (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19).
If this is true, then we have lost one of the primary components found in the book that we say we turn to for spiritual formation. Laments – songs that cry out to the Lord from the depths suffering – are terribly rare in our congregations.
Over a third of the Psalms are considered to be laments. It’s by far the largest category of Israel’s hymnal. To put it plainly: every three songs sung by God’s people would have been lamentation. This ancient songbook shows that one of the rhythms of the redeemed is singing often and honestly about the tension between joy and sorrow, trust and doubt. Even if an individual wasn’t suffering personally, they would sing for and with others who were.
So it would seem that lament should still be a common, corporate habit today.
But show up on Sunday mornings in our culture and you will probably wait a very long time for communal lamentation. You will hear lyrics rich with doctrine, praise, celebration, and triumph. But songs with complaints, protests, and questions like the laments of Scripture will be far from the sanctuary.
Isn’t it odd that the largest category in the Psalms is virtually nonexistent in many churches today?
I have sometimes wondered if this is just my personal experience that’s heightened because of my grief. But the more I’ve heard from others in my life, thought about all the churches I’ve been a part of, and listened to leaders like Mark Vroegup, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Eric Mason, Aubrey Sampson, and Soong Chan-Rah, the more it seems to be the unfortunate norm in America.