Friday, May 9, 2014

Of church bulletins and the language of lament

I'm an Old Testament kind of woman. I love the Old Testament. I was shocked as I've grown in the faith to see that many Christians never read the OT. I've mentioned once that a pastor's wife I knew used to carry a New Testament bible only to church. I've also mentioned that once, a Sunday School teacher laughed dismissively, saying, "I just take most of the Old Testament with a grain of salt".

I've never understood that attitude that half of God's word doesn't count. I've also never understood the attitude that the 'God of the Old Testament' is wrath but the 'God of the New Testament is love.' Have they never read of Jesus' wrath in revelation? Have they never read of His love in Hosea?

It is uncomfortable to read of His wrath, in OT or NT. God's wrath makes me tremble and just to think I've displeased Him for one nanosecond makes my stomach clench. In this present Age of Grace we have rarely witnessed His Old Testament power, other than a monumental natural disaster or two. Usually, though, people deny it is Him behind that power, and they go on with their lives without giving Him praise and glory. But the Tribulation will be all-wrath, all the time. His power will be unleashed but not in the way it has been this past age, through grace and love, the cross of Jesus and salvation of sinners. His power will be unleashed in woes, anger, and death. They WILL know it is Him doing the miracles of disaster and woes. For example, Ezekiel 38:21-23,

"I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Lord God. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. 23So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord."

Gill's Exposition says,

"Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself,.... Show the greatness of his power, and the strictness of his justice and holiness, and glorify these, and all other of his perfections, in the destruction of the enemies of his people: and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord; Heathen nations shall now come to the knowledge of the true God, and his Son Jesus Christ, and of the Christian religion, and shall embrace and profess it"

God is God, and His wrath shows His perfections as much as does His love. Often, in my reading of the OT when I come across such a passage, I mourn. I lament my sin, the lost-ness of others, the destruction those who refuse to repent. I cry over the waste of opportunities to promote His glory. I cry real tears and I'm often grief-stricken over these things. I'm not bragging, but letting you know that sin is a palpable, real burden and weight that slays me in grief more often than not.

I was looking at the church bulletin cover from last Sunday's worship service. I was thinking, once again, that the covers always, ALWAYS show some sunny-happy verse and smiling people. I wondered, where are the verses about His wrath? His anger? Where are the photos of people standing beside a tornado-destroyed house, a cancer ward, or a prophet in sackcloth and ashes? Never. We never see that. It irks me that we don't.

Proverbs 19:20 is good. But why not also sometime print Proverbs 19:23, a couple of verses later?

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm."

When was the last time you read a church bulletin cover or heard a sermon on the fear of the Lord? Do we not need to see the whole counsel of God? Read verses extolling all His attributes? Yes. Why not some verses like Isaiah 6:5? Isaiah 10:1-2? Isaiah 30:1?

Or these, like Lamentations 3:55? Jonah 2:2? Psalm 130:1? Like, is no one ever miserable?

Then I came across Carl Trueman's piece at Reformation 21 blog. It dovetailed nicely with my current thoughts on the lack of balance in the verses shown on bulletin covers, or the lack of balance of the woe verses as the basis for sermons. His piece is called "Miserable Christians Revisited".

Some time ago, I wrote a short article entitled 'What Can Miserable Christians Sing?' Over subsequent years, I have had a lot of friendly correspondence as a result of that piece and it has been reprinted in numerous church newsletters and posted on various websites. Then, earlier this year Jonathan Leeman, of 9Marks Ministry, kindly asked if I would write a further piece, reflecting on the original article. This has now been published in the 9Marks Journal. Here is a taster:

The article was intended to highlight what I saw as a major deficiency in Christian worship, a deficiency that is evident in both traditional and contemporary approaches: the absence of the language of lament. The Psalms, the Bible's own hymnbook, contains many notes of lamentation, reflecting the nature of the believer's life in a fallen world. And yet these cries of pain are on the whole absent from hymns and praise songs. The question that formed the article's title was thus a genuine one: what is it in the hymnody of your church that can be sung honestly by the woman who has just lost her baby, the husband who has just lost his wife, the child who has just lost a parent, when they come to church on Sunday? The answer, I suggested, was the Psalms, for in them one finds divinely inspired words which allow the believer to express their deepest pains and sorrows to God.

You can read the whole piece here

The language of lament. Yes. Carl Trueman has it right. Woe, lament, and judgment.

I was reading Isaiah 66:23-24. Here are the verses,

God's Final Judgments against the Wicked
…23"And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me," says the LORD. 24"Then they will go forth and look On the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die And their fire will not be quenched; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind."

Isaiah 66:23 is a verse of great blessing, but immediately after, in verse 24 there is a verse of great judgment. Verse 23 shows a monthly worship by representatives who constantly come to acknowledge Jesus as supreme upon the earth. In verse 24 there is a monthly and constant review of the judgment of God, "a perpetual sacrament of judgment", as S. Lewis Johnson puts it.

If it pleased God to tell us that we will worship Him in love and submission; and likewise will view His eternal judgment of those whose worm will not die; to vividly show us that both these things will be constantly occurring, then what of man that we deny singing laments and printing the verses which also show these things?


  1. While resolving my sovereignty/anger issue with the Lord some 12 years ago, He lead me to read specific books in the Old Testament. I grew up in a church that barely, if ever, referred to the Old Testament, so it was not a natural inclination for me to go to the Old Testament to restore my fellowship with the LORD. However, I found myself weeping like you described with deep sorrow for the sins written about that pertains to us all still today. We need the Old Testament if for no other reason than that our Lord Jesus referred back to the Old Testament in His teachings as well as pointing to proof of the fulfillment of prophecy in the New Testament. Thank you for drawing attention to this issue in your post.

  2. The importance of reading the OT as well as the NT and the fear of the Lord. Two topics that are very frequently neglected but very important. Thanks Elizabeth for this great post.

  3. I am distressed because we so seldom hear sermons preached from an OT text. How can you really understand the character and holiness of God without the OT? I never really understood the wretchedness of my sin until I gazed on the holiness of God with Isaiah. I see God's wrath on a nation and world that lived in disobedience, but I also see his lovingkindness and mercy., and His patience. I know that God is a covenant-keeping God and His promises are "yea and amen." The OT taught me that I have a Kinsman Redeemer. It made me understand my responsibility to be a watchman who warns in Ezekiel. The Psalms have comforted and Lamentations and the prophets have convicted. Most of all I have seen the scarlet thread of redemption that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. All 66 books are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." I believe people don't believe they need a Savior because they haven't seen their sin the way it is presented in the OT, along with its eternal consequences. I am sure that you can tell that I, like you, am passionate about this subject.

  4. Typical coward you are. Close comment section in your last post and only address one commentor. Calvinism is eisegesis and nothing more, your arrogance that your interpretation, well more so your eisegetical view, is right is nothing more than pride. Pretty sad too that anyone would follow the theology (John Calvin) of a well documented murderer.

    As much as you sop up the accolades you receive on here and try to appear humble, your exaltation on men (teachers and preachers) is apparent.

    Good luck


    1. Keith,

      I closed comments on that other post, because as much or more ink had been spilled in the comments than in the original post. That, combined with the exegesis of the original post, meant there was little more to say. Anything further would probably degenerate into heated insults, as your comment ably demonstrates.

      The Doctrines of Grace (which you call “Calvinism”) are exegetically supported. Many links were provided for those people who are truly seeking truth to determine if these things are true. However, the Doctrines of Grace seem to elicit heated anger from those unwilling to submit to the sovereignty of God regarding His salvation process, or even to investigate sincerely. It is all Him, yet those rooted in pride still wish to ascribe some kind of personal ability or superior intelligence to their own salvation. Poking at the idol of pride in personal salvation usually elicits heat and anger, which again, your comment ably demonstrates.

      If the Doctrines of Grace are true, they are God-inspired and worthy of righteous study and appropriate language. If they are not true, which you claim (but not the bible claims), then your prayers and pity for me are called for. Either way, if you wish to correct me in a perceived error, 2 Timothy 2:25 says do so, "...correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,”

      In that same spirit of gentleness, I would like to remind you that Paul was a “well documented murderer” also. In addition, Jesus forgave the men nailing him to the cross and murdering Him. If we go by your standard, we would never listen to any Apostle nor to any preacher, because no man is righteous, no not one. It is Christ with in us who enables us to exegete, understand, and proclaim His truths.


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