Songwriter, author Card speaks on biblical nature of lament at SBTS

Communications Staff — April 11, 2008

Confidence in the steadfast love of God enables Christians to worship amid suffering through lament that turns to praise, noted Christian music artist Michael Card during lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 1.

Card delivered two lectures through Southern’s Institute for Christian Worship and performed a concert as the featured artist at Southern’s annual Gheens Banquet.
During his lecture titled “The Lost Language of Lament,” Card noted that honestly lamenting before the Lord allows us to walk in fellowship with Him.

“We should be totally honest in prayer,” he said. “One of the things we will learn as we look through laments is what we ask for in prayer is almost never what we need. We often don’t ask for what we really need in prayer, and God often shows us what we really need, part of which is to experience His presence.”

An accomplished songwriter and author, Card has been the recipient of five Dove Awards, including songwriter of the year and song of the year for “El Shaddai” in 1983. Card also hosts a radio program, “In the Studio with Michael Card,” that features music, commentary and guest interviews.

Card earned awards for his books “Scribbling in the Sand” (IVP 2002) and “A Sacred Sorrow” (NavPress 2005). His albums include “The Hidden Face of God,” “The Final Word” and “Known by the Scars.” In 1997, Card was honored as a distinguished alumnus of Western Kentucky University.

During his lecture on lament, Card read an article about Vincent Van Gogh, the renowned Impressionist painter who committed suicide in the late 1800s.

“He wrote of a guilty desire to learn to suffer without complaint,” Card said. “His final self-portraits lend credence to this suppression. Vincent’s eyes in such portraits reveal a silent, simmering confusion. Perhaps suffering without complaint, keeping the tears of his emotional pain under control was simply another one of those things Vincent was forever working on.”

Many people believe there will never be another painter like Van Gogh, Card noted, however, there are a countless number of people who are like him emotionally.

“If their (such people) portraits could be painted they too would reveal eyes that were incapable of weeping their own tears,” said Card, reading the article. “The most we could hope to see spattered across a thousand canvases are expressions of a hollow happiness, a self-manufactured stoicism, a simpering ‘I’m okay,’ ‘you’re okay.’”

Van Gogh’s brother reported the artist’s last words to be “the sadness will last forever,” Card said, adding that the discipline of lament was missing from the great artist’s life as it is missing from the lives of many today.

“I have to come believe and trust and hope that tears of lament are the missing door, the way into an experience with God, with a God whose depth of compassion we could never have imagined,” Card said.

Card spoke of the nature of hesed, a Hebrew word most commonly translated as steadfast love, mercy or loving-kindness. Card called hesed “the defining characteristic of God” and defined it as “the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing giving me everything.” This characteristic of God gives the different psalmists in Scripture confidence to approach the Lord with laments, he said.

Card defined lament as the biblical invitation to come to God with our confusion, sorrow, anger and hatred and offer them up as an act of worship. Such emotions often arise when people see wicked people prospering while God’s people suffer, Card said.

“Good people are being punished? And bad people are prospering? And you are a God of hesed? This confusion needs to be offered up as an act of worship,” Card said.

“We have a problem. This is where a lot of the world is struggling. ‘The problem of evil,’ they call it. Most of the time, God does not answer people’s questions. People don’t get answers, but they get the presence of God and that is what they need.”

Reflection on the Lord’s undeserved kindness enables the psalmists to turn their laments into praise even in dire circumstances, Card pointed out.

“If God defines Himself by hesed then why does (SBTS professor) Chip [Stam] get cancer? Why do my 18-year-old nephew and my best friend die of cancer at age 62?” he said. “If God is hesed, then I have a real problem. We have to work something out. This is where laments come from.

“This is the problem, but it is also the solution. What tends to happen in the Psalms is that the lamenter will lament, lament, lament and then the lament will turn to praise. It is all worship, both the lament and the praise. Frequently, the lamenter remembers that hesed is God’s defining characteristic and everything becomes praise.”
Card’s lectures are available here in audio format.

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