Tuesday was a day of lament. Very real pain and suffering, not my own, but in the lives of people for whom I care, brought me a heavy heart. I prayed earnestly for a couple I love who are standing vigil for their infant daughter in Intensive Care, for a family where murder and violence has torn their parents from them, for a friend struggling with faith in a dark time, and other weighty needs. One might be tempted to ask, Where is God? Is He with us, or not? This past Sunday I joyfully sang that “God Is Good, All The Time.” Yet, 48 hours later, there were sorrows piling up, one on top of another. The mystery of pain and suffering made it a long day of waiting in faith.
Several Psalms (the songbook of the Bible) include lines that ask- God, what are You doing? Where have You gone? In the 44th Psalms, the writers affirm their faith and thankfulness for God’s provisions in the past, then they change to a minor key. “But now you have tossed us aside in dishonor. You no longer lead our armies to battle.” (Psalm 44:9, NLT) “You sold your precious people for a pittance, making nothing on the sale. You let our neighbors mock us. We are an object of scorn and derision to those around us. You have made us the butt of their jokes; they shake their heads at us in scorn.” (Psalm 44:12-14, NLT) “All this has happened though we have not forgotten you. We have not violated your covenant.” (Psalm 44:17, NLT) “Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24, NLT)
I learn from those songs that it is not wrong to wonder why, that God is not offended when I pray about disappointment and pain. Yes, there is a time for singing in the minor key as we make our way in this pilgrimage. It is so easy to pray and praise, to sing and preach, when we are healthy, beloved, and without trials, isn’t it? There is a danger that when we are living on the top of mountain, so to speak, we might be too quick to return the sorrow back on the heads of the suffering as their just desserts, the results of their folly and/or sin. It could be that sometimes we do bring pain into our lives with poor decisions, but many times the reasons are inscrutable. If we, in our victories, turn on those in sorrow, we are just adding insult to injury.
Christian, the Church must become the safest place on earth to wonder and to weep, to lament, to cry. We cannot take God’s place and offer all the answers that some desire, but we can be like Jesus and weep with those who weep, letting our hearts be tender, our prayers offered in advocacy not in judgment.
- The newly divorced person needs to be able to tell God and their community of the ache.
- That parent whose child is disabled needs love as they wonder why their son will never read or sing.
- The husband who has buried his wife needs to mourn.
If songs in the minor key are written out of our worship, we may reach very faulty conclusions: that the suffering lack enough faith to join in joyful song, or that God is justly judging them for some moral failure.
Truthfully, eventually suffering comes to all us. We need to learn the kind of faith that holds on in the dark of night, that trusts Him to be our Lord when we walk through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ as much as when we are led by ‘quiet waters where He restores the soul.’ Yes, we need songs of lament as much as we need songs of celebration, songs that admit to our doubts as much as songs that make bold proclamation. A healthy range of emotions includes sorrow and joy, doubt and confidence. If we understand that our emotional health requires the proper expression of all emotions, why is it so hard for us to accept that in our Christianity there will be days of joy and days of sorrow, moments of profound faith and those of great fear?
When disciples lament, when they ask the hard questions of our God, they can grow into a new dimension of faith. If we only worship in times when we know the goodness of the Lord, if our songs only celebrate that “God is good all the time,” we will leave too many sorrowing disciples without a language for their worship. There are not many sermons preached from the third chapter of Lamentations. Jeremiah’s sorrow is simply too unpleasant for most of us to share. The weeping prophet writes “He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:15-18, NIV)
I can tell you this: times of lament make one weary to the bone, bring on very different temptations than prosperity, and are lonely for who need to sing in the minor key. But, these times can also soften the heart, make tender the spirit, and enlarge the reservoirs of compassion. So, I will, despite my sorrow, let Jeremiah lead me to hope. I will join in him in a confession of faith. Will you?
Weeping may endure for the night but JOY comes in the morning. In his sorrow, Jeremiah also remembered hope. Here are his words, from the Word. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:21-26, NIV) “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” (Lamentations 3:31-32, NIV)
O God our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure
Sufficient is Thine arm alone
And our defense is sure
Before the hills in order stood
Or earth received her frame
From everlasting Thou art God
To endless years the same
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun
Our God our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Be Thou our guard while troubles last
And our eternal home
Isaac Watts | William Croft © Words: Public Domain