The rhythms of my life follow the undulations of the school calendar. Some seasons are more intense, while others are solitary. Amid the busier times, the courses I teach set a pattern for reading and studying particular portions of Scripture with the students who sit at the desks—or look through screens—in a given school term. Over the past few weeks, a dozen college students and I have been reading through the Old Testament’s songs of lament. The songs are sad, to be sure, but we too have known sadness of late. We find freedom in being able to express our sadness to God.
As we slowed down and meditated on these scriptures, we noticed these lament songs took different turns. Some were simply an opportunity to vent about an exceedingly painful experience. In others, such as Psalm 85, the description of sorrow was nestled between two other movements. The first movement described the character of a God of steadfast love. The final movement, unsurprisingly, was a call to God to change the situation. The first movement we quickly overlooked upon reading the movement of sorrow. However, it soon became clear that the verses about God’s character were the foundation for what followed.
Thinking theologically about the form of this psalm can help us when it is our turn to lament. These are times when our soul cries out against the cruel injustices we witness in the world. This week our class lament included being confronted once again with mass shootings, unapologetic racism, and casual gender discrimination. There are many reasons why such violence burdens our spirits. Among them, theologically, is that we know the character of God is something different than what we’re seeing. That eschatological vision of the world—God’s highest hopes for humanity—is fundamentally different from the violence we’re witnessing. We cry out because, in our innermost, being we know the character of God is fundamentally different from that which causes us to lament. The God we know is a God of love.
Many Christians are accustomed to reading about a God of love in the New Testament but would not be so sure where to turn to find the God of love in the Old Testament.
Many Christians are accustomed to reading about a God of love in the New Testament but would not be so sure where to turn to find the God of love in the Old Testament. Lament psalms are just one place among many in the Old Testament where a God of love may be found. Portraits of a God of love may be found in every portion of Scripture—in poetry, stories, prophecies, and God’s covenantal laws.
With every new conversation I have with my friends and colleagues who are Old Testament professors, I come to appreciate a new aspect of our Scriptures. Sometimes these insights stem from more academic studies of a passage or theme. Other times they have become dear to us at significant moments of our lives. Often, it is a result of both. Again and again, we find that one of the reasons we love the Old Testament so much is that we encounter the God of love in its pages. It is our highest hope that, through our ministries of teaching and writing, we may help make way for others to encounter this same loving God throughout the whole of Scripture.
As with the psalms of lament, these portraits of the God of love may be nestled among witnesses to very unloving experiences. Being able to cry out against what is wrong means we have at least some inkling of the world God wants for us. That cry you’ve experienced in your heart—God, why don’t you do something?—joins a collective cry for all of creation to become more fully like the character of the God of love. What we yearn for is the image of a loving God to be made manifest in creation.
Search for the God of love today—in Scripture, in your relationships, indeed, in all of creation. And know that, in the moments of our deepest pain, our lamentations are an act of hope that the world can truly be transformed more fully into the likeness of our loving God.
Stephanie Smith Matthews is the co-editor of Encountering the God of Love: Portraits from the Old Testament, offering new perspectives on old scriptures to prove that God was, is, and will always be a God of love. Order Encountering the God of Love on TheFoundryPublishing.com