Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 16, 2014

The Journey Toward New Creation: Lament

“I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” God’s response to Job’s friends in Job 42:7

Job’s friends do not know how to respond to suffering. In the face of Job’s tragic hardship they try and come up with an easy answer. They assume that Job’s suffering is the consequence of his sin and so they call him to repent. It is an easy 1=1 equation. Therefore, instead of listening to Job, or lamenting with him, they proceed to lecture him.

God, it turns out, is just as frustrated with cliche’s and easy answers as Job is. At the end of the book God finally breaks his silence with a harsh word toward these friend saying, “I am angry because you have not spoken the truth.” He affirms Job for his honest lament, and confronts his friends for their failure to be honest.

Last week I began a four part series based on the week of study I had at Duke Divinity School’s summer institute. The question we wrestled with during the week was how can we be faithful participants in God’s plan to bring about reconciliation and healing in a divided and broken world?

The second major issue we dealt with was the importance of lament. The journey toward healing and reconciliation requires us to deal honestly with the problems we are up against.

If we are honest, though, I think most of us can relate to Job’s friends. Our culture has mastered the art of of avoidance. Our fast paced “CNN” world gives us little space to explore the depth of our emotions. We have all kinds of distractions and “pain killers” that help us avoid dealing with reality. We are taught to run away or black things out.

The same thing could be said for our church culture. Like Job’s friends, I think we are often afraid of silence. At the Summer Institute, Ruth Padilla DeBorst told her story of how she journeyed through grief after her husband was murdered when she lived in South America. Her verdict was that there were too many words. Her Christian friends had good intentions, but they often made things worse. They were telling her that, “God was working all things together for the good,” when what she really needed was space to cry. She didn’t need a sermon, she needed listening ear. She didn’t need people telling her what to feel, she needed people who could help her articulate what she was feeling.

During our morning worship service we prayed: “Lord give us the courage to ask hard questions and the courage to sit with uneasy answers.” It certainly does take courage to ask the hard questions. The process of lament can be uncomfortable because it forces us to face the aspects of reality that are painful. Our attempts to avoid reality are understandable. Honesty is not always very easy.

Yet, I was reminded that the process of lament is worth the risk. Ruth spoke to us about how she was able to come to a deeper level of hope once she had the space to wrestle with her grief. She spoke of two aspects of lament that facilitated this transition from despair to hope. First, she reminded us that lament is a form of prayer. It is different then a complaint of a whine. It is, “a cry of suffering with direction.” We are directing our pain toward God in prayer. The Psalmist, for example, asks, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Notice that God is still being addressed. The communication lines are still open.

A different angle of the reconciliation statue. Notice the look of concern on the fathers face.

A different angle of the reconciliation statue. Notice the look of concern on the fathers face.

Second, in the midst of her lament she discovered a God who was empathetic to her pain. She testified to the truth that God is not aloof and disconnected from the problems in our world. Ruth suggests that God actually utters a cry of lament right after Adam and Eve rebel. He calls out to them, “where are you?” We often ask where God is when things have gone wrong. Isn’t it powerful to think that God is asking the same question of our world? When people turn away in rebellion he seeks them out and asks, “Where have you gone?” “Why have you abandoned me?” These questions reveal to us a God who truly cares about our world.

Perhaps, then, we too might have the courage to ask hard questions and sit with uneasy answers for a while. At our closing worship we were encouraged to write out prayers of lament. I’d encourage you to take time to do the same thing. What concerns or questions do you need to bring before God in prayer?

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