Lament and complaint

Lament, I don't know maybe (photo by I Don't Know)

For my paper for the lament colloquium I want to distinguish three functional types of complaint/lament text:

  • lament which bemoans
  • complaint which charges or accuses
  • confession which despite the circumstances (which might warrant lament or complaint) expresses trust in the one spoken about or addressed

Notice that this classification is not formal, it is concerned with the attitude of the speaker of the text, and is thus functional rather than formal. Rather like Brueggemann’s functional classification of the psalms.

Complaint Department photo by mrmanc

Interestingly, recently Tremper Longman III has distinguished lament and complaint on formal grounds not merely seeing “complaint” as a clarification of the naming of “lament”. He speaks of lament when the text addresses God, and complaint when it is about God, but addressed to other humans. The “lament” psalms are examples of one, and Num 20:1-13 of the other.1

Longman’s classification is really interesting, but what really interests me is not the form of the text but the implied attitude of the “speaker”. After all attitude is why naming matters.  Juliette’s protest: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” served her needs, distinguishing the object of her love from his family name. Yet by the end of the play we know that her claim, though perhaps true of roses, is less true of families! What we call things matters, not least because our naming consciously and unconsciously reflects and shapes what we perceive. While Juliette might claim that “Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title” others will merely see a Montague, one against whom they are sworn in feud.

Photo by Digital Library @ Villanova University

NB: In this post I return (the marking season being over :) to my paper for the first February colloquium and therefore topics I addressed before:

  1. Tremper Longman, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? A Biblical-Theological Approach,” in Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: Essays in Memory of J. Alan Groves, ed. Peter Enns (P & R Publishing, 2010), 48 []