A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament
November 11, 2016
Women sometimes get the message that they are always supposed to be smiling and happy. After all, the Bible does tell all Christians that we are to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4) and to count it all joy when we meet trials (James 1:2). We see that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (Gal. 5:22). But what if you struggle with depression? What if you are groaning within over a trial? Are Christians allowed to express these kinds of emotions? What are we supposed to do with them?
This is what Christina Fox confronts in her book A Heart Set Free. As someone who suffers off and on with depression herself, Fox is sensitive to the darker side of emotions. And she wants to encourage the believer that “the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, give us a structure for how to express our feelings” (17).
In Part One, Fox discusses a whole host of emotions that women feel imprisoned by such as anxiety, shame, despair, worry, rejection, stress, and irritability, and looks at the different ways we try to handle them before revealing what our real problems and needs are. She speaks with understanding while taking the reader to the real issues behind her emotions and her greatest need in Christ. Fox depicts these emotions well and has a solid gospel presentation throughout the book. One concern I did have was the way she explains why we are emotional beings under the subtitle, The Origins of Despair:
Since God is an emotional being, we know that emotions have always existed. God feels emotions such as love, joy, peace, jealousy, anger, and sadness (Exod. 34:14, Rom. 1:18, Rom. 5:5, John 11:35). In fact, it was out of his great love and joy that He created us. He desired to share with us the same perfect love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed together from all eternity. (36)
While Fox gives us a good doctrine of salvation in her book, I hoped to see a more thorough doctrine of God here. I wish she had qualified these statements more, making the sharp distinction that God’s affections are not passionate and involuntary, as we know human emotions to be. What I mean by this is that God does not have emotions that are reactive and changing. He certainly isn’t stoic or apathetic, but his affections are sovereign, true, perfect, and cognitive. Classical theology refers to this as divine impassibility. Our emotions are not only cognitive, but also have physiological elements. It would have been helpful here to discuss the incarnation and how Jesus, as the God-man, fully took on our suffering. To be fair, Fox certainly introduces the role of Christ in her gospel sections; I am just referring to expanding upon this talk on emotions and God. And I do not think that Fox is specifically teaching that God is passible, but it could be read the wrong way and would have been good to insert some teaching on this in a book about emotions, especially here where she speaks of the internal acts of God.
The meat of the book introduces the Psalms of Lament as a way to express and shape our feelings, teach us more about God, reorient us to truth, and ultimately to trust and worship our great God. Fox begins this section with a chapter on Jesus and the Psalms, which helps to orient the reader from the beginning. She also breaks down the parts that compose the Psalms of Lament well, which leads to practical teaching about our own lamenting.
This book is a good introduction to the Psalms of Lament for those who battle powerful emotions that seem to rob them of their hope. Fox assures women that even strong people like David experienced powerful emotions and we can learn from how he cried out to God. Not only that, she shows how remembering God’s faithfulness helps us to overcome irrational as well as legitimate emotions. She teaches the believer how to speak the truth to herself, the importance of confession to God, and how to pray her own laments.
One important take away from Fox’s book is that we need to lament:
We need to lament not because we are without hope but because we have faith in God. We also need to lament so that we can enter into the pain we so often avoid in order to know the peace that God gives those who come to him in peace.” (78)
This is true not only for women, but for men as well. Hopefully this book will also help women to be more open with others when they are experiencing emotions that seem overwhelming. Our God is never overwhelmed. Fox shows well how the Psalms of Lament can teach us how to bring our emotions before God, leading to that fruit of joy in Christ that we so desperately long for.