In the book of Lamentations, the community gathers around the town square of the devastated city of Jerusalem to offer a lament for their fallen city. Various voices speak up recounting the suffering they have endured. In particular, the voices of women, the widows, the abused, and the most marginalized of the community express their pain.
One of the most important contributions of the book of Lamentations is that the voices of the suffering individuals are allowed full expression.
The voices of suffering in Lamentations also interact with an additional voice. That voice is the voice of the prophet narrator. Up until Chapter 3, the prophet narrator has been an almost dispassionate observer. He reports his observations on the horrors experienced by the citizens of Jerusalem. A shift seems to occur in Chapter 3 with the prophet narrator expressing a more personal connection with the suffering citizens of Jerusalem. He expresses the pain and the guilt of Jerusalem.
The prophet is identified in Chapter 3 by the Hebrew word geber. The translation of geber varies among different interpreters. One possible translation offered by the BDB Hebrew lexicon is “man as strong, distinguished from women, children, and non-combatants whom he is to defend.” The term geber, in contrast to other more generic words for “man,” emphasizes the idea of one who advocates for the weak.
The work of the prophet is to stand as an advocate for others. The advocate role is an important role in the ministry of justice. Many American Christians hold a position of privilege in American society. As the privileged, there is an important voice that can be raised on behalf of the marginalized. American Christians can advocate for the rights of the unborn, the poor, and the oppressed of our society. Part of our strength would not be to effect change that would further our privilege and affluence, but to advocate for change that would benefit the very least of our brothers and sisters. The role of the geber is to advocate for the suffering in Jerusalem and offer a lament on behalf of the suffering.
Lament is essential to the work of advocacy.
“What happens when appreciation of the lament as a form of speech and faith is lost, as I think it is largely lost in contemporary usage?” asks Walter Brueggemann.
“What happens when the speech forms that redress power distribution have been silenced and eliminated? The answer, I believe, is that a theological monopoly is reinforced, docility and submissiveness are engendered, and the outcome in terms of social practice is to reinforce and consolidate the political-economic monopoly of the status quo.”
In the coming months, a number of Supreme Court decisions will be handed down. As Christians in American society, some of us may choose to remain silent during different political debates. However, the privileged of our society have the responsibility to speak on behalf of the suffering and marginalized. Interacting with the lament of the suffering allows us to speak with authenticity in the public square. In the midst of political conflict, will the privileged of our society be willing to stand as the advocates in the public square on behalf of the suffering?
Soong-Chan Rah is author of The Next Evangelicalism and a forthcoming commentary on the Book of Lamentations. He is also a member ofSojourners’ Emerging Voices project.