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Wednesday, November 08, 2006
 

Complaint/Lament/Plea ::

Both Tyler (who started it) in a post "Laments, Complaints, Prayers, Pleas, or Petitions?" and Ken, in a comment on my response to Tyler: "Complaints Department" make a sensible criticism (which I had not spotted, despite my facetious title) that "complaint" is perhaps too anaemic a word to describe the psalms under discussion. They make good points.

Ken seems quite happy with "lament":
It strikes me that the passive aspect of the term lament is quite appropriate as it seems the Psalmist is always fully aware of God’s sovereignty and their own inability to right the injustice or perceived wrong in the face of that sovereignty. I also agree with Tyler that complaint seems to trivialize the petition while lament, in my opinion, more appropriately captures the emotional gravity of the situation. From my own experiences, I would more often characterize my moments of grief and frustration with God as laments rather than complaints.
While Tyler, after summarising other suggestions, like "songs of prayer" - which while it has the advantage of using "biblical language" is neither really English, nor captures the precise nature of these "songs", writes:
I wonder if a more appropriate name for these psalms may be “pleas” or “petitions.” Gunkel and most other psalms scholars after him have recognized the most important element of the lament psalm is the plea or petition for help. Gerstenberger calls it the “very heart of a complaint psalm” and claims that “in fact, all the other elements can be interpreted as preparing and supporting the petition” (Psalms, FOTL, 13).
I rather like this, as he notes the heavyweights draw attention to the central role of the "plea" in these psalms. But I am still a bit nervous of domesticating them. "Plea" sounds so much safer than "complaint" when addressed to God... And some of them are not at all "safe". Jeremiah's disputes with God somehow seem tamed if one calls them "pleas".

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