Review: Lament Is the Beginning

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After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again
Glenn Pemberton
Abilene Christian University Press
220 pages

Reviewed by Paul Koptak | February 5, 2016

Glenn Pemberton teaches Old Testament at Abilene Christian University. Because of a rare neurological syndrome, he also has been living with constant pain in his legs that most likely will never go away. In this follow-up to Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, Pemberton not only wants to restore the biblical language of lament to our prayer and worship, he wants to show how the Psalms help us move on to trust, even when our hopes have been dashed. Recalling the apostle who prayed and did not have his thorn removed, Pemberton asks: Once prayers and laments have been voiced, how shall we respond when the answer is “no”?

Of the sixty laments in the psalter (40 percent of the book of Psalms), only nineteen conclude with thanksgiving, yet they speak of trust in God who is our rock, our refuge, our high tower. A wheel diagram with six spokes illustrates the various ways lament connects with the central hub of trust: confidence, thanksgiving, new song, rejoicing, instruction, and broken hope. The variety offers a richer and more faithful response. Pemberton is careful to say that trust comes in its own time, and he is impatient with those who would tell sufferers to hurry.

With endorsements from Old Testament scholars Walter Brueggemann and Tremper Longman III, the book combines current research into the Psalms with honest reaction to adversity in an accessible read. For example, Pemberton affirms the scholarly consensus that the Book of Psalms has been assembled so that there are more laments in the first part and more songs of praise at the end. We can see that movement from lament to praise, but this study and testimony show that praise is hard won and not a cover for unspoken disappointments. Sometimes it offers thanks, sometimes it waits, and sometimes it continues to praise God for who God is. The question Job faced is one for us all: “Will a human serve the Lord simply because the Lord is God?”

Questions for group discussion and an up-to-date bibliography offer resources for further study. This look at the laments and their varied movements before God is both truthful and compassionate.

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