MONTREAT, N.C. – Prof. Dan Migliore is worried that Christians may be neglecting their prayers.
Not their prayers of praise or thanksgiving, but their prayers of lament – those that articulate anguish, or, like the psalmists of old, take God to task for being silent when the world is hurting so deeply.
That’s what Migliore told his listeners in a workshop titled, “The Prayer of Lament in Christian Theology,” one of 23 offerings during the Montreat Conference Center’s third annual “Reclaiming the Text” Conference, which focused this year on Recovering the Language of Lament.
“My basic concern.is for freedom and honesty of prayer, and all that this freedom implies for our understandings of God and ourselves,’ said Migliore, a systematic theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary. “If in Christian life we cannot express our doubts, our faith will be half-hearted. If we cannot shed tears over waste and loss, our laughter will be hollow. If we cannot express outrage against injustice, our commitment to God’s reign will be lukewarm.
“If we cannot argue with God, we cannot be brought to deeper understanding.”
But even Migliore agrees that arguing with God is easier said than done.
The Jewish spiritual tradition of arguing with God, depicted in memorable accounts of Biblical quarrels involving Abraham and Job, among others, has largely disappeared in Christian spirituality and prayer.
The lament-laden Psalter – full as it is of cries of loss and anger, and even a thirst for revenge – was suspect in the judgments of Augustine and Luther. Calvin also put more emphasis on patient endurance of suffering than on protests of God’s absence in times of despair and loss.
They rejected the ages-old tradition of questioning God and complaining that He ought to “act like God” and start remedying the suffering and injustice that shatter lives.
Yet the Biblical tradition, in Migliore’s view, holds that the people of God may protest injustice and urge God to act to end suffering -not just as individuals, but as communities of faith. The covenant itself creates space for such prayers.
“When events seem to challenge the validity of the covenant promises, when sufferings that endured seem far to exceed what could be construed as discipline or training or chastisement; when the God of the covenant is experienced as painfully silent or deeply hidden in the midst of outrageous evil; (then) the people of God cry out in their loneliness and sense of abandonment,” he said. “Some may dare to argue with God. However difficult it may be for us to grasp, in the Biblical understanding of the covenant relationship between God and God’s people, arguing with God in times of distress.has it’s rightful place.”
Migliore based his comments on his earlier paper, “Arguing with God: Resistance and Relinquishment in the Life of Faith.”
Asking God to act, he said, is for humanity’s sake and for God’s sake as well.
“Injustice, violence and death contradict the character and purpose of God. When evil, injustice and death prevail in the world created and ruled by God, it is not only humanity that suffers, but also the glory of God that suffers,” he said.
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