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A Lament for our Persecuted Family in Iraq

A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:18; cf. Jer. 31:15)

Sitting in a comfortable living room while on vacation, it’s hard for me to even begin to process the horror that is happening in Iraq. Christians being exiled, murdered, raped. Christian children being beheaded, cut in half. Fellow members of the family of God. City after city attacked and cleared out, simply because they are known to contain Christians.

It’s hard to process. Almost impossible to know how to help.

Christian Today ran a helpful piece yesterday that I recommend everyone read: “Crisis in Iraq: five things you can ACTUALLY do to help.” The first and most obvious one is prayer. But I would suggest a more specific kind of prayer is also appropriate in this situation: lament.

A lament is a prayer of complaint to God. It’s being honest about the horror and evil before us, the disconnect between what we know to be true about God and his character, and what we see happening in the world around us. It’s what ancient Israel imagined their matriarch Rachel doing—weeping as her children were exiled from their city and carted off to Babylon (Jer. 31:15; 40:1). The same cry was lifted over the slaughter of the innocent children by King Herod when our Lord Jesus was born (Matt. 2:16-18).

But a lament is different than merely grumbling to God, as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Laments are just as raw and honest, but the difference is that they are prayers directed to the God who can do something about it.

Modern western Christianity, for countless reasons I won’t go into here, has in many ways lost this language of lament. This is to our own detriment spiritually and communally, and to the detriment of our brethren around the world. When we’re reminded in such shocking ways of the fallenness and evil that continues to rage in this world, we must lament. So what does that look like?

The Psalms are full of laments. When we have no words to express our pain our confusion or outrage, the psalms of lament give us voice. I encourage you to pray on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq right now the words of Psalm 10. Lament the situation. Pray for justice. And as you pray for justice, remember that Christ’s blood was sufficient to cover the just punishment of all who repent and trust in him.

Why, O LORD, do you stand afar off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, "There is no God."
5 His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
6 He says in his heart, "I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity."
7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
8 He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
11 He says in his heart, "God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it."
12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
13 Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, "You will not call to account"?
14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.
16 The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart;
you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10, ESV)

I’m also reminded of our hymn of the month for July at Westgate: “Be Still My Soul.” This is a song of lament.

I was supposed to write a blog post about this hymn last month, but I failed to find time for it. Let this article be an occasion to reflect once again on the words of this powerful hymn, and the hope it gives us in a broken and fallen world.

Be Still My Soul (No. 530 in The Worshiping Church)

Be still, my soul! the Lord is on your side:
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul! Your best, your heavenly Friend
thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul! Your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past;
your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul! The waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past,
all safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.