This article is part of the Help! series.
The Intersection of Lament and Racial Reconciliation
Where are we to begin when it comes to issues of race and injustice in our world today?
Given the loaded nature of racial reconciliation and justice, a helpful starting point can be lament—the biblical language of empathy and sorrow. It’s not enough by itself, but lament can open a door for racial reconciliation and justice.
Laments are prayers in pain that lead to trust—together. It’s the language of Christians who know that the world is deeply broken by the effects of every kind of sin, including racism. Lament mourns and protests against injustice.
The Bible is full of lament. Over a third of the Psalms and the entire book of Lamentations groan under the effects of a sin-cursed world.
Lament invites God’s people to channel their pain, confusion, and outrage. It refuses to be silent. This divine liturgy of sorrow talks to the God of mercy and justice.
O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute?—Ps. 94:1, 20
It’s voices solidarity as pain becomes a platform for unity under the banner of one Lord.
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.—Ps. 22:24–25
And it empowers empathy as we join together with brothers and sisters who are weeping.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.—Ps. 10:17–18
Lament is the prayer language of people who know that God loves righteousness and justice (Amos 5:24). It is the cry of redeemed people as they mourn over the effects of sin in the world (Rom. 8:22-24). Lament directs its ultimate hope to the King of Kings (Rev. 6:10). It’s how Christians process pain so that they can live faithfully in a sin-cursed world (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
Life is saturated with pain. Sorrow reminds us that something is tragically wrong with the world. Christians know the problem and the plot-line of redemption. As we live in a culture marred sin—including partiality, racism, and oppression—lament can become our common language.
Don’t know where to start with racial reconciliation? Lament doesn’t solve all the problems. But it can be a helpful starting point. Let me explain how.
How Lament Helps
Grief is not tame. Sorrow can be frightening. And it’s always complicated. Consider the last time a heart-broken friend wept before you. Did you feel the tension? What do you say? What questions are appropriate?
There are parallels when racial injustice creates pain or resurfaces old wounds. How might lament help us navigate this unique and historic sorrow?
The right order matters. Lament is what we can do when we don’t know what to do. It’s a way to begin. As I’ve tried to wade into racial reconciliation, I’ve found it helpful to think of engaging with these steps: love-listen-lament-learn-leverage. If we are committed to loving one another and listening, lament can be transformative and catalytic. Lament changes the conversation by allowing an early “action step” to be saturated with active compassion. We love and listen by lamenting. It’s catalytic by mixing the ingredients that help us to truly learn and consider what actions might be taken.
Getting lament in the right order helps.
When individuals or churches join in lament for racial reconciliation and justice, we communicate our concern. The pull of division is strong. There are many landmines and solutions are not simple. But weeping with those who weep and living in harmony with one another is a clear, biblical command (see Rom. 12:15–16). Fractured churches and communities could start with empathy through lament. By joining in the sorrow, even when it’s complicated or confusing, we affirm that our biblical oneness is deeper than our cultural divisions.
Lament communicates I care.
Lament is the prayer language of people who know that God loves righteousness and justice.
When it comes to racial injustice, silence is deadly. It’s a trap laid by the enemy. On the one hand, if you know the trauma of “otherness,” the inability to express your pain doubles the trauma. It’s easy to “fake it” or allow frustration to boil. On the other hand, if you want to help a loved one or a hurting friend who is grieving over racial injustice, the internal turmoil of what to say—or not say—can create unhelpful passivity or simplistic solutions. Lament vocalizes complicated emotions. It’s divinely designed to blend grace and truth. It yearns for justice while pleading for mercy.
Lament can be cathartic and constructive.
Laments help us remember. They are more than an emotional response to pain. This song of sorrow gives added weight to grief, helping us to realize—this is important. We memorialize events so that we’ll not forget the past but also to learn as we move toward the future. Laments create a spiritual record that looks back and then forward. It calls us to not repeat the mistakes of our history, and it invites us to consider carefully our ways.
When emotions are high, lament drops an anchor of reflection.
The pain of racial injustice and the division that requires reconciliation between believers of different ethnicities is complicated and controversial. Lament enters into this brokenness with a prayer language that speaks compassionately and prophetically. Lament doesn't solve all the problems. It’s not without risk. But it helps.
Lament can be a place to start with racial reconciliation. However, the church should never be content just to pray. Other steps must happen. But lament can create a directional heading which bridges the raging waters of controversy and delayed change.
Pandemics and protests spread. We’ve certainly witnessed this in the last few months. Both create a culture grappling with what is wrong and with what to do. When it comes to racial reconciliation, the conversation is long overdue—especially in the church.
Do you hear the pain of our black brothers and sisters and wonder, What can I do? What can the church do? Where do we start? I hope you’ll keep asking that question months and years from now.
Lament isn’t the only step to take.
However, this historic prayer language has the potential to open a door to reconciliation. I hope you’ll start.
Mark Vroegop is the author of Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation.
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