Americans have faced terrible tragedy. With wildfires raging in the west and two hurricanes destroying major cities in the south, natural disasters are destroying people’s homes and livelihoods. The images from the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Harvey can be especially startling. Our hearts go out to the people who face such terrible tragedy.
It can be hard for Christians to understand how to respond to God in such circumstances. We, typically, talk about finding peace or trusting God. We ask people to think about God as a loving God who has a plan for all of us while they’re standing in the flood zone. While these things are true about God, they aren’t particularly helpful at that moment. We need a way to pray to God and to speak about him that fits our experience. How do we respond to God when he brings tragedy?
Communal Lament Psalms
God gives us prayers for all circumstances in the oldest prayerbook of the church, the Psalms. The psalms show us prayers of rejoicing, praise, and every other aspect of the human experience. They even show us how to pray when God brings disaster. Scholars of the psalms call them the communal lament psalms , such as Psalms 44, 60, 74, 80, 85, and 90.
G. Brook Lester , who literally wrote the book on the Psalms of lament, says that these Psalms have common features. See the example in Psalm 44.
Psalm 44 describes the actions that God has taken in the past to save Israel. He drove out the nations that lived in Canaan. He protected God’s people, and he established a home for them. He promised to go out and fight with their armies.
Then the psalm turns to the present. God brought disaster and defeat for his people. The nations around them are winning battle after battle, and Israel is a laughingstock. They feel great shame and fear because of what God is doing. Then, they call on God to remember his promises, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?” and “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!”
How We Can Pray In Tragedy
When churches and cities lay devastated from fire or flood, these psalms can guide us in prayer. Perhaps the easiest way is to pray them as our own prayer. To lead a congregation in singing or speaking the holy prayers God has given us.
But we can also model our prayers after the example God has given us. Here is an example of how we might pray, based on the lament psalms:
You have made us your children through your Son, Jesus Christ. You promise that you are with us, that you protect us, and that you keep us always. But our cities and our homes face terrible destruction. Our churches are flooded or destroyed by wind. Our families have lost everything they had and even lost their lives. Protect us, heavenly Father, with your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, because you have given us your steadfast love through Jesus Christ. Just as you gave him new life after a terrible death, bring comfort to the families who have lost so much. Raise up faithful men and women to come to their aid. Remind us of your love and the peace that you give us through your son Jesus Christ, so the world may see your love in us and rejoice in you as we do. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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