More about Lament: Christian Viewpoint from the Highland News
Here’s the Christian Viewpoint column from Thursday’s Highland News, which is on the theme of Duncan’s sermon this morning, ‘Lament.’
A classic novel begins ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ For us, the foreign country lies just four months back. We feel the old ways have been irrecoverably lost.
Many churches have been upbeat about the speed with which they’ve adapted, delivering services and fellowship opportunities on-line, and increasing their involvement in the community. All this is positive, and as people who wouldn’t normally attend church join in ‘virtually’, more are hearing about the love of God.
Surveys also suggest, however, that others are turning from God, questioning their faith in the light of recent events. We need safe spaces where the grief so many are feeling can be acknowledged and expressed.
Grief at the loss of old ways of living; grief at enforced isolation. The grief of those who lost loved ones without being able to properly say ‘Good-bye’; of those still struggling with the aftermath of the virus; of those plunged into despair; of those whose jobs or pensions are threatened. Such unspoken griefs cast a shadow across many lives.
‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept… how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?’ The lament of the Jewish people in the 6th century BC. Jerusalem had been destroyed, most of the inhabitants forcibly exiled. It’s a lament with no resolution, ending in wild rage against their captors.
Psalms like this give us confidence to express our grief. It’s OK to hurl doubts and questions at God. It’s OK to let the tears come.
After all, God is weeping too. Jesus, who shows us what God is like, wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Theologian Tom Wright ponders ‘Dare we say that God the creator, facing his world in meltdown is himself in tears?’
A friend reminded me of Helen Keller’s words – ‘Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.’ But sometimes we see only the suffering without the overcoming.
And then we remember how Tom Wright finished that sentence. God weeps, he says ‘even though he remains the God of ultimate Providence.’ And so hope stirs, and exhausted in our lamenting we pray ‘Father, you have helped us in the past. Thank you that you will be with us still in this land of exile.’
Some Christians have been proclaiming that the coronavirus is punishment for the world’s sins, or a sign that the end of time approaches. How much truer and more helpful to say ‘We know that, like us, you are grieving. Let us find words together to call out to the God who loves us still.’