I wrote this several years ago when I feared I might lose my son to drugs and depression. Today, I heard that a young man that I knew as a boy ended his life. His mother's fear has become reality.
I am passing through a place that has reached through to the center of me and stirred familiar cries of lament. Though somewhat familiar and therefore less threatening now, there was a time when I was frightened by my response to such a place of exile. I would call on all my resources to attempt to fix, or at least deaden, what seemed so wrong. It is a place that is “otherly”. It can feel complicated and confusing, yet at the same time it is mysterious and powerful. It is a universal place taking the shape of a cave outside Jerusalem where Jeremiah wrote his lamentations to God concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. It takes the shape of the broom tree under which Elijah wept, spent by his encounter with the worshipers of Baal, and now fearing he was all alone. In this place even the weight of the air immobilizes you, weighing you down, putting pressure on your mind and soul. This place of lamentations is isolating. It sets you apart. And I, like most all of us, instinctively try to make the “bad” feelings go away. I want to “do it right” so as be comfortable and happy.. I want the suffering to end. I plead for mercy. I cannot keep silent. I have to speak. I have to cry. Through it all there are those that want me to “shush”, to be happy, to get over it, to be all right. I, too, want to be all right, as I think “all right” cannot include such feelings and thoughts..
I have found trying to whitewash my lamentations only causes shame to seep through my efforts and hopelessness to entangle me in its web. Unless I am honest and forced to take all that is within outside myself and offer it as a sacrifice of self, holy and acceptable to the One we offend, I’ll not be able to learn how to dwell in this land of exile until delivered and taken home. Unless I allow lament to express my questions I will not be able to find the Answer. I will never benefit from the worship and transformation that awaits me. Times of lamenting work like a fire in my bones to create anew.
Then I come to see with new eyes. At first it is like catching the sight of the shadow of a ship passing in the fog. That which first forces its way into words that shout “WHY?” and “PLEASE” and “HOW?” also forces me into the reality of Christ’s Kingdom. It is the promised new birth longed for. This force that demands I cry out, that brings that which is inside out, also, leaves my mouth empty when I am spent. I come to the end of my lament when I have exhausted all words, all reason, all demands, all questions. Only here, after all is released and lay blooded in the hands of my Deliverer God that I can see the new birth. My lament is necessary. My lament is the expression of the labor of creation. My lament is an expression of worship as I could never understand when I would strive so hard to flee or be silent. Fear of what I could not control and unbelief of that which I could not understand kept me from entering in. When I first took a step of faith to follow Christ I didn’t know that I would enter into His lament of suffering as well.
We have heard Christ’s lament through many voices. Moses cried, ”Let my people go!” only his words fell on a hardened heart. The children led out of Egypt by God’s strong arm fell back into idolatry while Moses was away. Their fear and unbelief drove Moses back to the mountain full of lament and he called on the mercy of God to save them and give them new life. Samuel grieved with God as the people rejected Him in their worldly desire for a king. David cried bitterly when Nathan called him to see his sin. He lamented. He locked himself in his room and refused to eat. He covered himself in ashes, hoping for mercy. Elijah, having been”very zealous for the Lord”, but now his life in danger, fearing he was all alone, fled to a cave where God met him and fed him and gave him rest. Over and over we hear the cry of God through His people for His people. We hear His mercy without end poured out through the voices and the tears of His chosen ones.
The best of the Children of Israel were carried off into captivity by the Babylonians. WHY? They were the children of promise; they should have been spared, right? Where was God’s grace and mercy? When they got there the false prophets said it would only be for a little while. But, God said differently. Set up your households. Dwell in the land. It will be a long time…70 years. WHY? This is not God’s will! Doesn’t God want us to be happy and to live the abundant life, without these entanglements? GOD, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? This is not what I understand your will to look like. This doesn’t look like steadfast love to me. It looks like abandonment, even rejection.
I can hear the FATHER speak to himself. Can you hear the father or mother in you saying this: “I despise having to do this. It grieves me to discipline these children. They just don’t get it. They don’t understand. They are not able. Unbelief, disbelief, and misbelief harden their hearts. How WILL they ever understand if I keep holding their hands? How will they ever truly understand ME unless they lose what they think they must have, what they think they deserve? They have missed the mark. Their thinking is askew. Their eyes are blinded. They have chosen falsehood. They have put their trust in that which they can manage. I have to stop this madness or they will be lost for good. I cannot allow them to continue to live in the darkness of their own minds. I love them too much to spare them My righteous judgments. I will not settle for less than the best…My best; not what they think is best.”
But, isn’t that the Old covenant? Don’t we live on this side of the cross, in the new covenant? Shouldn’t it be different now that we are living in grace? Christ came to feed, to give water, to heal, to set free, to unstop deaf ears, to give sight to the blind, even to raise the dead. Yes, He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Isn’t this all said and done? Hasn’t he delivered us from all that is not all right? This is truth, right? Is there need for lament this side of the grave?
Yes, for there is suffering. The cries of “How?” are still voiced. We continue to bewail our grievous woes. We must. Millions are starving and dying of thirst. Prisons remain in every country. Divorce still results from unresolved differences and failure to understand one another. Accidents still happen. Lives are lost, both spiritual and physical.
I lament. God doesn’t heal the rampant force of Bi-polar disorder that colors all the generations of my family. How then do I live, when I’m convinced I’m not able? How do I live with the daily losses in my life? How do I live with the evidence of dreams shattered by sin and limitations and the painful reality that “we know not what we do”. How do I dwell in this place between the two comings of Christ? How do I wait? How do I think about my God who seems to disappear and dwell far away when the darkness of my own Gethsemene swallows my best attempts to believe? HOW?
What God does is contrary to our way of thinking. He doesn’t fix it. At least not how we think he should. He doesn’t come home to us one day and say, “Here is the deed to a new house in the country and funds with which to live comfortably until the end of your days. And I promise there will be no weeping or wailing or pain or sorrow.” Or does He? I venture to say He does fix it. BUT, it is in the form of an inheritance, a TRUST FUND, set up for us in heaven. It is a surety that is ours IN CHRIST. But, this place is NOT heaven. My problem has been that I thought, like the prodigal son, that it should be heaven and therefore I could demand my inheritance and the right to benefit completely from it now and thus be spared the sorrow of this life. I thought I should be allowed to bypass all of that which causes me to lament and go straight to heaven…better yet, have heaven set up here…the whole house, all the rooms… Not even have to finish the journey…. Certainly not have to feel and give voice to the emotions of lamenting.
My ways are not your ways nor my thoughts your thoughts, says God over and over.
What have I learned through my journey through this life thus far? What do the cries that explode from my soul say about me? And what do they teach me about God? What is the place of sovereign lament in our lives and in the lives of the community of believers? What do questioning tears and chest-wrenching sobs have to do with helping us to discover the purpose of life: to know God and enjoy Him forever?
Oswald Chambers says, “What is my dream of God’s purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end purpose of God. His end is the process – I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. This is what glorifies God.” Chambers focuses our attention on Christ as the storm continues to crash and we are forbidden the luxury of being in control. He challenges us to make Christ our focal point as the labor and delivery takes over. Our lament is our expression of faith and releases us from our own attempts to be in charge.
Jesus’ answer to the man who asked what he must do to DO the works of God was “Believe”. It is faith that pleases God. Read Hebrews 11 to see examples of lives that were pleasing to God because they lived through faith. I will be bold to say each life listed in this Hall of Faith was expressed by sovereign lament. In the midst of the fire, through the sacrifice of that which was most precious; the leaving behind of home and family; living the life of a fool who built a boat on dry land; going but not knowing where; living as an alien in the land. All of these died without receiving the promise. They confessed they were strangers and exiles on the earth. And I doubt this made them feel happy, at least not in a worldly sense. Cries of lament, holy lament, if there is such a thing, were likely their most honest expressions of life. They each found at the end of their laments that they were and had been in the hand of God and that was enough. That which they lamented for was not the end. Was it not more so the means, the transportation, the bus, (to use C.S. Lewis’ imagery) to the promised land, to Christ’s Eternal Kingdom, to oneness with Christ by faith?
In lamenting, we not only allow the heart of God to capture us, we give His voice words and cries and groans. We come into a passionate interface with God himself. Like Jacob we wrestle through the night, demanding a blessing, but in the end find ourselves marked for life with a holy limp. That limp is the mark of God’s hand on us. It is his blessing that we asked for though it doesn’t look like what we thought.
Christ Himself showed us the way through lament to new birth. I can see the Lord of creation, hanging on the cross, crying out, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”… I can see the force of His lament in the process of giving me new birth, transforming me bit by bit from one who knows not, to one who by faith understands. I can know why. I can know how. Christ and His suffering and lament has entered me and is putting flesh on these dry bones. The desire of God’s heart is being given a shape and form.
Before He wrestled with the cup presented to him in the dark night of his soul in Gethsemene, Christ prayed for the disciples and for those who would later come to believe. He knew what was coming next, though He knew no one could go with him. He entered the Garden and felt then the beginning of the end. His best friends would fail him. They would not be able to stay. They were afraid of the path Christ was taking. Yet, Christ continued to walk into betrayal and rejection. It wasn’t the way it was supposed be, they thought and we say. But, it seldom is. Christ’s lament in the upper room, in the garden, through His silent lament in the presence of the high priest, and His words on the cross, opened the door to that which is greater than our imaginations can fathom…perfect life moving into death’s grip, then breaking free and anew to a resurrected life… A new life where the past is the past, what was is left in the grave, where forgiveness is complete, and love is forever without expectations. In and through Christ all will be, all is completed, finished… For us, who know not what we do.
Now, by faith, we travel every day on the path Christ traveled, and if we allow Him to be in us and we accept the faith and courage to remain we will live it all, the full, complete, and abundant life. We will join in His suffering and cry out with him on our cross. We will each become a living sacrifice and die to ourselves, little by little. And our cries, our groans, our wails, our pleading to know “How?” will yield to the sweet incense of transforming worship..the expressions of incomprehensible joy and gladness.