Book Review: “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times”

I received a copy of Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah from IVP. It is a part of a new series called “Resonate” that looks to engage books of the Bible through a current theological lens and the study of culture.

Rah’s book focuses on the Book of Lamentations. It’s not a book I’ve readily studied and rarely read. There is a good reason for that. It is a lot crying. And Rah points that out. It IS a lot of crying and in the West we’re used to an “overcomer” message. We’re about TRIUMPH. We don’t have time for lament. 

And that is the rub. Rah shouts a prophetic voice of his own into a very comfortable American church, and it’s a voice we need to hear. The American evangelical church has watched the culture shift and we’re moving from white male dominance and that’s hard to take. We don’t know what to do. We don’t understand other cultures very well. When places like Ferguson, MO blow up, we think, “Get over it.” We don’t lament. 

The book is a walk through Lamentations and does have exegetical insight I found very helpful. But it’s also a walk through our current culture offering biting commentary along the way. And I found that very disturbing. And I needed disturbing.

Lamentations, I discovered, has each chapter built around the tool of using the Hebrew alphabet one letter at a time. For instance, if a chapter has 22 verses, each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It demonstrates that lament needs to be thorough. And lament also has a framework it works in, but there is an ending in some ways. Ultimately, the book ends on what Rah calls a “minor key.” It leaves things unresolved. What is next isn’t revealed. But the lament is over, hope is turned to God once again, and the believer must move forward.

At this particular time in our culture, this book is incredibly needed. It is something we need to hear. To absorb. To apply. Lament isn’t part of our “routine” as the Church in America. We don’t understand it. We sniffle for an afternoon, then move on.

Maybe what we need instead is a lament for the Church. A lament over the shift in culture. A good weeping. Get it out. Pound the frustration out on the desk. Cry into the carpet.

And then desperately ask for the voice of God.

Rah gives the invitation to listen to the other cultural voices we have. Don’t stay with “majority” culture. Listen to the minority voices God has gifted us with in the church. FOLLOW some minority voices from time to time! We need a process of learning the plight of others and hearing their pain. We don’t need to be so quick to move on.

Rah’s book is a challenging read. And challenges are what my soul needs.

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