Some important dimensions of the theology of the laments or ways in which they may resonate with human experience are discussed in chapter 1 with reference to the works of Rainier Albertz, Walter Brueggemann, Erhard Gerstenberger, Claus Westermann, and others. In this chapter I want to elaborate an approach suggested briefly earlier (p. 8) as one way of working with the laments. The reader ought to read more widely in the literature mentioned in chapter 1 to enrich his or her appropriation and communication of the biblical laments.
The reader of the psalms of the Old Testament is quickly struck by the fact that most of the psalms deal with some sort of trouble or adversity, the psalmists' experiences of enmity, oppression, and wickedness. As I have indicated earlier, it is not always clear what the trouble of the psalmist is or was, or who the enemy and the wicked are. Indeed the particularities of the situation of the one who prays are often difficult to discern. What is going on? Who are the enemies? Why are they hostile to the one praying? What have they done that is bad? What is personally happening to the psalmist that is regularly described in extreme terms?
Westermann has recently and properly reiterated the point that in the structure of the psalm of lament, one is usually dealing with three dimensions. “It is directed toward God (an accusation or complaint against God), toward other men (a complaint against an enemy), and toward the lamenter himself (I-lament or We-lament).”1 Recognition of
1. Claus Westermann, “The Role of the Lament in the Theology of the Old Testament,”
Interpretation 28 (1974): 27 [= Praise and Lament in the Psalms (Atlanta: John Knox Press,