In Times of Grief: Lament and Faith
Faith endures; but my address to God is uncomfortably, perplexingly altered. It’s off-target, qualified. I want to ask for Eric back. But I can’t. So I aim around the bull’s-eye. I want to ask that God protect the members of my family, but I asked that for Eric.
I must explore The Lament as a mode for my address to God. Psalm 42 is a lament in the context of a faith that endures. Lament and trust are in tension, like wood and string in a bow.
“My tears have been my food day and night,” says the songwriter. I remember, he says, how it was when joy was still my lot, “how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.”
Now it’s different. I am downcast, disturbed. Yet I find that faith is not dead. So I say to myself, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
But then my grief returns and again I lament, to God my Rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
Again, faith replies “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
Back and forth, lament and faith, faith and lament, each fastened to the other. A bruised faith, a longing faith, a faith emptied of nearness: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Yet in the distance of endurance I join the song: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s, 1987), pp. 70-71.
I don’t have much to say about Nicholas Wolterstorff’s meditation on Psalm 42 in light of his son Eric’s death in 1983. I do commend his book, as well as Martin Marty’s A Cry of Absence, to anyone experiencing loss. In times of grief, we run the risk of becoming like Job’s comforters. We don’t know what to say, and so much of what we do say tends to be unhelpful. Wolterstorff and Marty know what to say, because they are speaking of intensely personal losses in the first person. In the end, testimony trumps theodicy. I do think there is something to the alternation between lament and faith that Wolterstorff identifies, at least at the level of lived experience. Perhaps lament is the form that faith takes in times of God’s apparent absence. It takes profound trust to complain to God, who nonetheless remains “the God of my life.”