Book Review: Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, by Glenn Pemberton

Hurting with GodPemberton provides an approach to lamenting much needed by today’s congregations, especially among the increasingly shallow forms of “Praise and Worship”-only gatherings. “P&W” formats serve a purpose and may be beneficial, but they do just that—serve a purpose. And so with public and corporate lament, a purpose is served. Incorporating all forms of worship and God-talk are important for all churches, and in their relevant time and place.

Pemberton writes, “If what I have found in university classrooms and churches is a reliable indicator, believers are aching for words to express the realities of their lives, to speak the truth to God instead of putting on a charade of repetitive and empty praise clichés that ignore or deny the relentless storms” (25). Yet these words, words of lament, have been pushed out of our gatherings, and ultimately our vocabulary, by years of insistence on being “joyful” and “happy” Christians who approach times of hardship with phrases like, “God has a plan,” “It’ll all work out,” and, “Blue skies and rainbows . . .” These may be true, but may also likely prove to be utterly unhelpful in times of suffering. Many biblical texts, in both the Old and New Testaments, help us through these times and give us language to talk to God and help us through. Pemberton, does a fantastic job using the book of Psalms, as well as other Scripture, narrative, and personal experience, to point out this language and guide us through its usage, including a rare and needed address of the imprecatory psalms.

Pemberton well addresses those who would rebut and dissuade Christians from the use of lament or anything that hints at anger, dissatisfaction, and even resentment towards God. Along with being told the one side of being humble and reverent toward God, we ought also to be continually reminded these words: “To lament is to humble myself before my sovereign. It is pride that prevents me from telling God and others the truth. Masked by false piety, pride may look like authentic faith: we appear to be successful, we talk about our blessings, we minister to others in crisis, and we even talk about God a lot. But our pride prevents us from telling anyone the truths about ourselves—that I am not okay, that I am confused, that I am angry, that I feel as if God has abandoned me. Arrogance, not humility, keeps us from speaking the truth of our lives. . . . No expectations, no disappointments, no questions for God: a low-risk, minimalist version of Christianity, safe from ever needing to have a difficult conversion with God” (172).

The appendices provided are great resources for group study and discussion, locating helpful psalms, and locating information for further study on topics in the included chapters and their subsections. Hurting with God will surely prove beneficial for the hurting and regaining the language of lament in the church.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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