+ Dr. Cynthia Eriksson introduces Lamentations, reflecting on how important it is to have spaces for honest expressions of grief, pain, and lament before God.
Cynthia Eriksson is associate professor of psychology and the chair of Fuller’s PsyD program. She has done trauma training, research, and consultation in many countries around the world. Her research is focused primarily on the needs of cross-cultural aid or mission workers and the interaction of trauma and spirituality.
“We have examples in these poems of what it honestly means to cry out to God, asking ‘Where are you? Why has this happened? What’s going on?’” – Cynthia Eriksson
My name is Dr. Cynthia Eriksson, and I am the chair of the PsyD program in the School of Psychology, and I’m an associate professor of clinical psychology. My area of study and research is trauma—psychological trauma—and I am introducing the Book of Lamentations.
In my work, I get drawn into those really complex and challenging spaces of pain and tragedy and brokenness and evil and grief. And the Book of Lamentations is an extraordinary opportunity within the canon of scripture for us to explore that together.
I didn’t really know until this project that the Book of Lamentations is actually made up of five poems, and four of those poems use what’s called the acrostic style. And that means that each of the Hebrew letters of the alphabet, all 22 of them, are what begins stanzas of each of four of the poems in Lamentations.
The fifth one—the fifth chapter of the book—is a poem that doesn’t use that style but is still a lament. All of them are laments. They’re funeral dirges, they’re ways of expressing deep pain, they’re ways of crying out to God. They have really horrendous things in them, ways that people have been hurt, ways that God has brought punishment, ways that God has left people alone, and the writers, the poets, are crying out in a variety of ways.
As a psychologist and as someone who specializes in trauma particularly, it feels odd to say this, but I am so incredibly glad that those poems are in our canon. They’re so important. It’s so important that we have spaces where we can be honest. And we have examples in these poems of what it honestly means to cry out to God, asking, “Where are you? Why has this happened? what’s going on?”
There aren’t just laments in the Book of Lamentations. There are also laments in the Psalms. And there are pieces of lament in the Book of Job. But I didn’t hear those much growing up, because there was a lot of emphasis on things going well and God being good and God providing and God sustaining, which are all fantastic and really important characteristics of God. But there are also seasons in our lives where God feels distant or it feels like God is not hearing our cries or we’re experiencing the consequences of our sin, whether that’s sins that we’ve done or lies that we’ve believed. There are consequences that are painful and disruptive and disorienting in our life. And the Book of Lamentations is that.
One of the things that I so appreciate about the Book of Lamentations is that it doesn’t end with a happy ending. It actually ends with a lot of tension and with a lot of uncertainty. I’m gonna read the last part of Lamentations 5:19-22. “You, Lord, reign forever. Your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do your forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return. Renew our days as of old, unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.”
The reality is that there are times in all of our Christian lives when we are in this in-between. We may be confident that God reigns but don’t see it in the space that we are. We wonder where God’s justice is, and we don’t see God moving yet. So for me, this leads to that question of how will we lament? Will we be honest with God in the midst of that uncertainty, in the midst of that pain? Will we be willing to open up all the incredibly disorienting, and maybe even horrifying, things that we’re feeling or experiencing and be honest with God about those? Will we walk forward as a community and call for justice, confessing our sins, lamenting the ways that we have not been the gospel person that we want to be? Or the gospel people that we want to be? When we don’t see that an outcome is clear, can we still lament? And can we hope and trust in this in-between? That is my prayer.