To believe that the United States has assumed the mantle of blessing from Israel is a faulty assumption. Israel’s exceptionalism arises from God’s grace. There is no scriptural support that the United States has earned God’s favor as an exceptional nation.
– Soong-Chan Rah
Why I picked up this book:
I have found Soong-Chan Rah to be a thoughtful and honest theologian, prophetic voice, critic and lover of God’s church. I was thrilled to hear him speak on this topic shortly after the book’s release and received a copy of it then.
Who Should Read Prophetic Lament:
I believe this is essential reading for anyone who considers themselves a leader in the church. The subtitle speaks for itself, “Call for Justice in Troubled Times.” I don’t think I have personally observed or experienced as much injustice in my lifetime as we are witnessing and experiencing today. I am troubled by the senseless violence, the growing “wealth” gap between the haves and have nots, the abuses against women and vulnerable children, the complete disrespect and disregard for God and his holy standards, the devaluing of black lives and targeting of black men, the destruction of families, the growing hate speech, rhetoric, and false reporting that has become common place in the age of social media, and that’s just to name a few. The temptation of everyone in this time is to blame or ask God, “Where are you?”
What’s in Store for You:
First, I want to point to one of the goals of the book’s “Resonate” series, “Our aim with this distinctive new genre is to have one finger in the ancient Scriptures, another in the daily newspaper and another touching the heart, all while pointing to Jesus Christ.” That alone is a challenge.
Rah uses his own story with the book of Lamentations as a biblical backdrop for a critique of American culture, but also of the American church.
The author desires “shalom” (a Hebrew word we often define as peace, but the meaning is so much deeper). Theologian Randy Woodley writes that shalom “is active and engaged, going far beyond the mere absence of conflict. A fuller understanding of shalom is the key to the door that can lead us to a whole new way of living in the world.” Rah states that “shalom requires lament.”
So what is lament?
“Laments are prayers of petition arising out of need…Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble. The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering that is wholeheartedly communicated through lament.”
We like to avoid lament, because we try desperately to avoid any suffering. Our American ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” does not allow for it. We love comfort and celebration. Yet there is a reality that sets in when suffering overtakes us, when death becomes us, when our security systems and gates don’t provide safety, when we follow the rules and there is no comfort, or authority figures abuse their power. In these troubled times, we are reminded that we are not in control and the sovereign God still has all power in his hands. Why not cry out to him for help and mercy?
Taking the reader through the book of Lamentations, Rah explores the shame and source of suffering, and lament in the context of death. He also reminds us that “God deserves all of our respect while our human achievements merit none of his respect.” He leaves us with the hope we can all find in Jesus. A corporate lament of God’s united people “offers the hope that God will provide the answers even if the answers are not self-evident” Jesus knows all about our troubles. He will guide until the day is done.
My personal take-aways?
This is the third book of Soong-Chan’s that I have read. His book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, is one of my all-time favorites. Prophetic Lament allowed me to better understand the book of Lamentations. It also echoes so many conversations about racial reconciliation, justice, and the leadership needed within the church. Rah specifically writes with a pastoral heart having a love for both the church and the city (which has oftentimes been abandoned or has become a special project for white evangelicalism).
I love how he evaluates the narrative of African Americans—our history, voices, and stories throughout this book. I’ve often said that history does not always report the facts. History is as it is written. Rah asserts that “history is often told by the victorious and therefore favors them.” He also writes, “There is power to bringing untold stories to light.” And I am thankful that he has made these intentional efforts.
I also love how he expounds upon the understanding that Jerusalem is personified as a suffering women, the Daughter of Zion. He uses this awareness to declare “a theology of suffering in the context of pain would call for a culturally feminine voice….Lamentations may prove to be the most important book of the Bible with a dominant feminine voice.” Who knows better how to evoke the pain and suffering of a community than the wailings of a grieving mother? “Lamentations does not survive without the voice of women.”
Finally, when making a disciple or mentoring someone, the first pillar of my ministry model is knowing and loving God. Exploring the book of Lamentations helps us wrestle through difficult questions about what we think about God and his character.
Quiz: Who is George Liele? Hmmm…
“The language of lament is the language of humility.” @profrah
“God’s mercy is understood in light of God’s justice.” @profrah
“Trust in God’s sovereignty leads to hope in new life and transformation ordained by God.” @profrah
“As we rush toward a description of an America that is now postracial, we forget that the road to this phase is littered with dead bodies.” – Soong-Chan Rah
“American evangelical inability to move beyond Christian triumphalism arises from the inability to hear voices outside the dominate white male narrative.” – Soong-Chan Rah
Next Up on This Topic:
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2016