Unity Through Lament
Think of the unity between Job and his friends in the first week that they “sat with him in silence” and simply were present. Think of the unity lost as they opened their mouths to let Job know God’s heart in the matter. A matter they knew nothing about. Yet they denied the lament, spoke cruelly, and unity that could have bonded mankind together was broken by the way they handled Job’s suffering. Lament is is inconsolable. Lament is impolite. Lament is unrestrained and refuses to make suffering intelligible. Lament is what we hear out of Bethlehem when maniacal King Herod has the boys two years and under slaughtered. “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.” This is unspeakable grief, and there is no answer to it.”
Lament is the moment, space, and gap between Good Friday, the crucifixion of Jesus, and Easter Sunday with all its victory. It’s a long fought road and the temptation is to ignore, jump to Sunday, or worse yet, spiritualize the suffering and speak for God who gives few answers.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected that “Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words. They should remain open. Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Many of you and many around you are going through a great tearing. Some of it at the hand of Covid-19 and others are suffering a nation divided. Still others of us are suffering through a spiritual drought and depression. Lament is the gift the biblical text gives us to speak our soul to God without having to give account for impropriety that may come out of our mouths. It allows us to grieve and know that Christ is with us and therefore what would be despairing grief without him is somehow bearable grief because he is on the floor of our suffering with us. He, and his disciples who understand this level of spiritual truth in their bodies. We cannot heal what we cannot name so today would you name what it is you have lost. Name and speak that to God and know he is listening.
Platitudes – “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil,” wrote Martin Luther in 1518, but “a theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” Part of the problem is that we Americans are addicted to theologies of glory; we want triumph and we feel entitled to victory over the powers of death and evil. We are addicted to theologies that are unrelentingly positive, theologies that immediately seek to discern “the good that God is working” through our suffering without so much as taking a moment to simply “call the thing what it actually is.” American culture—and, alas, American churches—are tenaciously optimistic. We do not dwell with our pain because we are too busy trying to control it, to shrink it down to a manageable size, to find the silver lining in it.
Repent today of times:
- I have been like Job’s friends and offered high sounding and even Bible verses to a friend’s lament.
- I have put on my happy mask and walked around hidden from others, hidden from myself, hidden from God like Adam and Even.
- I have tarried too long in the land of darkness and nearly lost all hope.
- My compromises to sin and ways I harmed myself and others as my grief clouded my view of God as Father.
Discomfort – Think about entering into life with others who are in pain. So often, our human default is to want to say the right thing, fix the problem, and make the person feel better. Or, to tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and keep marching forward. But these responses to others’ pain glazes over the truth and depth of their suffering. It’s a selfish response that allows the speaker to leave with a badge of pride that says they “fixed it”. In reality, they were ignorant to the person, their pain, and simply avoiding any potential awkwardness of sitting still.
Pain isn’t comfortable. It’s hard and it hurts. It’s true when it’s your own, and it’s true when it’s someone else’s. But to avoid someone else’s pain, to try to patch them up with a verbal bandaid, is selfish. If you’re speaking out of the fear of awkward silence, be quiet. In these moments, recognize his presence. It’s okay to be aware of that person’s pain. They’re hurting. Hurt with them. Choosing to fill this silence with platitudes makes the other person’s suffering about you. It’s not about you.
Feeling uncomfortable may be hard, but there is opportunity for a deeper relationship with others and with Christ when we allow ourselves to enter into suffering. Christ suffered. Like a friend who becomes closer when going through tough times together, we get to know a different side of Christ more deeply when we experience suffering. It brings us closer to him. We begin to understand the need for God in times when hope is invisible and we begin to empathize with the Jesus who said, “Take this cup from me.”
When we label feelings as good and bad, it makes sense that we would avoid discomfort, calling it bad or wrong. Instead, how can you enter into the discomfort with God?
Lament. Hope. When you’re hurting, and when others are hurting.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
– Psalm 51:10-12
When we pour our hearts in honest lament before God we begin to identify with Jesus who embodied a life of both suffering and hope. Our earthly bodies are meant to feel both physical and emotional pain. Jesus himself who experienced excruciating pain and betrayal cried out to God during the darkest hour of his life. In acknowledging our honest struggles we make ourselves vulnerable and willing to receive the grace of God. Our Heavenly Father understands the complexity and confusion of our pain. We can come to him without guilt or shame. After David committed a grievous sin, he poured out his heart before God. Through our lament we are drawn to the heart of God. There is no one who loves the prodigal son more than the father who patiently waits to restore his son. Today God is calling you to surrender your pain. Only in our willingness to lament can we discover the one who loves freely, understands completely and seeks to restore our brokenness.
Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!
4 The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
5 Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
– Psalm 113
Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. 18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.
– Romans 12:9-18
All Sweets and Sugary Drinks
Lord, we come to you this day postured with our palms open wide and our head bowed low. Recognizing our imperfections, our hurt, and the challenges of walking worthy of your gospel, we acknowledge that we are all guilty of causing pain and contributing to the brokenness of this world. Would you reveal specific ways, even at this moment, that I have sinned against You and others this day. Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer.
Father, loss and hurt and grief remains with a person. Pain, anger, and separation torment our innermost being. It is not easily shaken and seems forever to be attached to our identity. We’ve been impacted by the torrential rains, the rising streams, and the whipping winds that have wreaked havoc on those homes built on the sandy land. And as they have crashed greatly, all seems lost and destroyed forever. But alas, Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer.
For I not only have sinned and am in need of your forgiveness, but I am also a sinner, a sinner that pleads for Your Spirits Holy redemption to come into my life. You, Lord, are making all things new. You, Lord, have asked us to put Your words into practice and lead lives worthy of Your gospel.
You, Lord, have said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone….everyone… who asks receives, those who seek find; and those who knock, the door will be opened.”
Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer for help and healing. Hear my prayer for connection and restored purpose. And for as long as You give me breath, may you be honored and glorified by my life in this Your created word.
Lord, in Your mercy, hear my prayer.