My Review of Bier and Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament

Later this month, I am planning to preach a sermon titled “Is it Okay to Complain to God?” I think that it is and, in my own faith journey, learning how to complain, lament, mourn is something that I am learning to properly (biblically, perhaps?) to do.

I am preaching this sermon in part due to the circumstances of my family life and of the loss and grief within members lives of the congregation I serve and…because I have recently read Miriam J Bier and Tim Bulkeley’s Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament  (Pickwick Publications: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014)

A selection of essays edited by Bier,  who is a Lecturer in Old Testament at London School of Theology and Bulkeley, who is a Freelance Biblical Scholar teaching at Laidlaw Graduate School and Colombo Theological Seminary,  Spiritual Complaint is the result of presentations given during a “colloquium at (then) Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School” in the aftermath of the Christchurch New Zealand earthquake in 2011.

Divided into four sections: foundations, reflections, explorations, and refraction, Spiritual Complaint first addresses “new contributions to scholarship on Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Job; and ongoing discussion of the discussion of the relationship between lament and penitential prayer in the Old Testament.”

Then in the second and third sections the book “offers a bridge between the foundations of biblical scholarship, and the contexts in which lament might be used and framed in contemporary society.” The final section, “Refraction,” features Yael Klangwisan’s autobiographical lament “in the land of Israel/Palestine.”

Wide ranging and yet focused in the pursuit of understanding and appropriately engaging in lament, this reviewer found some of the chapters very informative as to the practice of lament from the view of and in the practice a local church pastor.

For example, Bier’s study of Lamentations 4 and its relationship to the rest of the book, provided this reviewer with some new perspectives on the context of both the chapter and the book as she suggests that Lamentations 4 has a “unique position in the book of Lamentations as a transitional movement between the individual (yet representative) speaking voices of… Lam 1, 2, and 3; and the explicitly communal speaking voice of Lam 5.”

Robin Parry, Editor at Cascade Books and Pickwick publications for Wipf and Stock Publishers in the UK, cogently argues in a chapter titled,  “Wrestling with Lamentations in Christian Worship,” that “…Christians would be well advised to listen closely to the historic Jewish interpretations. Gentile believers in Jesus need to appreciate afresh that this is a book, in the first instance, addressing the sufferings of Israel.”

I appreciated this book and was glad to read it as it gave me  a perspective of other Christian scholars from another part of the world who wrestle with the implications of the Biblical text regarding the difficult and tragic times in life and how Holy Scripture speaks to us in those moments. It was challenging and a refreshing read and has given this reviewer much to consider.

Spiritual Complaint would be a great read in courses at least the seminary and graduate school level and perhaps in upper-level undergraduate courses in religion and biblical studies.

I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher at my request in exchange for an honest review.



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