The modern church doesn’t lament well. The churches in which I grew up tended to omit “downer” Psalms in favor of those that we consider to be more “uplifting.” If we’re honest, we’re almost embarrassed by the negativity of Psalms of lament, Psalms of imprecation, and books like Ecclesiastes and Lamentations. You might think that’s just a handful of passages, but it’s not. There are 60-plus Psalms of lament and 20-plus imprecatory Psalms. For you math nerds out there, that’s over half of the Psalter!
And that’s not all. Think of all the other uncomfortable passages on judgment and suffering. Have you read Genesis recently? Joshua? Judges? Kings and Chronicles? Israel’s history is dark! Add to that Job, the major and minor prophets, the Gospels and Acts, the epistles, and Revelation. (Yes, that was basically the entire Bible.) Because passages on judgment, suffering, and lamentation aren’t the stuff of greeting cards, the modern church has effectively censored the Scriptures. Sure, we’d be ready to fight if someone suggested actually eliminating challenging texts from the Bible. But we are very prone to shelter people from exposure to difficult passages in public worship, including Scripture reading, singing, and preaching.
That’s pompous. It’s blasphemous. And it’s dangerous for Christians.
We tend to paint the Christian experience as a life of perpetual joy
Think about this last point with me. Although it may seem merciful to strike an intentionally positive note, it actually leaves Christians ill-equipped to deal with the hardships of life, whether those tragedies are personal or national. Whereas God has given us perhaps as much as half a Bible that riffs on suffering, we paint the Christian experience as a life of perpetual joy. Those who suffer are told to “Praise the Lord anyway” and “count it all joy” because “all things work together for good.” There’s truth there, to be sure. But there’s also a simplistic, almost sinister naivety. Carl Trueman addresses this with his typical candor:
“A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party—a theologically incorrect and pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals” (The Wages of Spin, 159).
The reality is, reading dark passages of Scripture gives a great deal of hope to suffering and depressed Christians. It lets them know that the Bible speaks their language. That heroes of the faith dealt with similar circumstances and feelings. That Scripture doesn’t dodge the reality of suffering in a broken world. That God allows them to pray out their frustrations—and gives them inspired examples of how to do so! The darker portions of Scripture might just persuade despondent Christians that, in fact, they’re not crazy!
Scripture doesn’t dodge the reality of suffering in a broken world
Let the dark shades of Scripture show up in your paintings. Go ahead and sing in a minor key. Teach people to pray angry, but to keep praying. Revel in the realism that God has provided in every portion of the Bible. It won’t depress people. Indeed, it may be exactly what depressed people need in order to walk through their own darkness and back toward the light.
Photo of clay sculpture study courtesy of Doug Young Studios.