Saturday, August 1, 2015
"The Message of Lamentations" by Christopher J. H. Wright. A Review
The Message of Lamentations
The Bible Speaks Today series
Christopher J. H. Wright
ISBN: 978-0-8308-2441-0; June 2015; $12.80
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber
5 out of 5 stars
Serious and Simple
It’s an odd assertion, but it clearly appears to me that lament and grief have been escorted out of the Church Sanctuary, and in many cases, forced to the leave the premises altogether. Their absence brings many American churches to look plastic, and leaves an emotional hole in the soul of a congregation. If everything must be upbeat in a church, then after a while, only the enthused, and those who can fake enthusiasm, feel they have a place. All others are forced to weep and sorrow in the silence of their empty homes, or in the vacant quietness of their hurting hearts. Yet lamenting is a full partner in the Christian life. This is evidenced by the vocalized grief that courses through the Psalms, the Prophets and all the way to Revelation; where the compounding voices and cries join together, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long…” (Revelation 6.10)? Restoring the balanced placing of lament in the Christian life and worship is one of the aims of Christopher J. H. Wright, international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, in his new 170 page paperback commentary, “The Message of Lamentations.” This small volume is the most recent installment in “The Bible Speaks Today” series.
Wright clearly sees Lamentations as having a valuable spot in Scripture as well as in the sacred society. As he notes, “the book assigns to us, as Christian readers, the missional task of hearing the voice of the oppressed and persecuted, bearing witness to their suffering, and advocating on their behalf – which is part of the purpose and power of lament” (55). To listen intently to the tears and terror of Lamentations tunes Christians to remember that real people have suffered, do suffer still (21); and it trains us to use these words for ourselves and on behalf of others.
The author correctly observes that there are several voices being heard in this biblical book; the voice of the Poet, the voice of Lady Zion, the voice of the people. But there is one voice missing, one person who doesn’t speak for himself in all of the five chapters; “There is one voice we never hear. God does not speak in the whole book of Lamentations. Heaven is silent” (33). His silence honors the grieved and ground down because it makes room for honesty in the hurt, candor in the thickest catastrophe. Yet, because Lamentations is part of the whole of Scripture, because it is in the sacred story, the voiceless one has turned “the whole book into a part of the scriptural word through which God’s voice is heard” (43).
Wright skillfully teases out the various textures in Lamentations, pointing out its particularities and peculiarities. His approach is scholarly enough to delight Seminarians and academics, while being simple enough to benefit busy pastors and Bible Study leaders. The book can be used for personal study, and is geared to facilitate group study. Not only is it affordable, but it affords Christian readers a wealth of deep, thought-provoking substance that will likely bring them to fall on their knees and lift their faces in astonishment and worshipful wonder. I strongly recommend the book!
My sincere thanks to IVP Academic for the free copy of “The Message of Lamentations” used for this review.