Written by Phil Monroe
Monday, 01 April 2013 00:00
In recent days, there has been a flurry of writings about abuse that either happens within the Christian community or where Christian leaders provided sub-standard care (e.g., pressuring abuse victims to be quiet, to stay in the abusive relationship, or to forgive or face discipline). Some of the most heart rending stories can be found at www.rachelheldevans.comin the posts and comments made during the week of March 18, 2013. In reading these kinds of stories of violation of trust, of using children for one’s own pleasure, of sacrificing victim’s on the altar of someone else’s reputation, faithful Christians feel a mixture of righteous indignation and sadness. Somewhere in the mix may well be a growing dissatisfaction with human leadership, their systems and even a nagging sense that God is not the powerful protector we expected.
What else is there to do but lament?
I write this post after returning from a choral reading of the book of Lamentations. This short book (and the many other laments in Scripture) reminds us that there is a faithful way to complain to God and anyone who will give us the time of day. We see that God’s people have fallen into sin and idolatry. Jeremiah bemoans the sins of his people. He even confesses these as if they were his own. He complains about the raping and pillaging by pagan armies. He dares in the pinnacle (middle) chapter of the book to accuse God for all of his suffering because he knows God is sovereign over all.
“You have mauled me like a bear…you have made me eat gravel…you have pierced me with many arrows.”
Yes, what comes next (3:21) after these accusations may be one of the most beautiful devotion songs to God:
“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…The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him.”
Wait. What? Jeremiah, didn’t you just get done talking about remembering your suffering, your “gall” and that you are in deep despair?
Lament Protects Lived Faith and Demands Silence
As you read Jeremiah’s lament you see that this is no, “happily ever after” story. It’s bad. It’s going to get worse. What else can we do but trust God? Since we have breath, we assume he may still rescue. But note that this particular lament ends on a question, “…unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure?” (5:22).
Real life has moments of “I once was lost but now am found.” But just we are not able to see/feel the end and all we can do is cry out for God to hear. The act of crying out may not bring a satisfying answer or any comfort, but it does continue the conversation. And that is what lived faith is all about. It is continuing to trust God and say, “Where else will we turn?”
Lament also demands silence. Job’s counselors understood that the ONLY response to his lament was 7 days of silence, 7 days of miming, “You’re right Job, this is awful!” Lament demands a silence because there are no human words that take grief away.
The practice of lament reminds us that the world is broken and will remain that way until its remaking.
Maybe we might avoid some of the re-victimization of abuse survivors if we incorporated more lament practices into congregational worship. Might we be less likely to force acts of forgiveness and premature reconciliation?
Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.