The Bible is full of lament, but looking to the Psalms is an easy place to start..
9 I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"
Now what does this have to do with music? I think the rich history of lament attached to music can allow people to express the pathos of lament, where, in Western culture at least, we don't openly allow ourselves to morn. We don't raise our voices when we cry. We are taught to find solitude and to work it out on our own. All of this repression and isolation can't be good, so why not let it all out together? Hymn writers have always thought so.
A Soul Cries Out
Horatio Spafford's hymn "It Is Well with My Soul" was his way of working through grief, like a modern psalmist. A couple of years before he penned the words, he lost his son and was financially ruined by the the great Chicago Fire. Then in 1873, after sending his wife and four daughters ahead of him for a vacation in Europe, their ship collided with a sailing vessel and sank, killing his children. His wife survived and sent telegram with the words, "Saved Alone."
As he traveled to meet his wife in Europe, his ship passed over the spot where the collision occurred, and he was inspired to write the words to "It Is Well with My Soul."
NOTE: I personally find the theology in "It Is Wll with My Soul" hard to swallow for the most part, but it is a beautiful expression of this one man's grief and struggle to reconcile it with his faith.
When tragedy occurs, humans feel compelled to express their grief, and where else can we feel safe to do so if not in the church?
Why Can't We Just Lament?
The problem can be that, just like the Psalms, there is a tendency to end these lament songs with a "but everything's okay because I love God and God loves me." It's a wonderul sentiment, but once again, it doesn't allow us just to cry.
At time like these, we can turn to another example: Lamentations
20 "See, O LORD, how distressed I am!
I am in torment within,
and in my heart I am disturbed,
for I have been most rebellious.
Outside, the sword bereaves;
inside, there is only death.
21 "People have heard my groaning,
but there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my distress;
they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced
so they may become like me.
22 "Let all their wickedness come before you;
deal with them
as you have dealt with me
because of all my sins.
My groans are many
and my heart is faint."
I've been looking for songs that do the same thing. And the challenge will be gauging a congregation's reaction to this kind of "despair only" sort of approach. I welcome suggestions.