God is teaching me about lamentation these days (both educationally and experientially). I have discovered that the typical default settings for humans are: anxiety, anger, and apathy; none of which are healthy, and all of which God works to eclipse and supplant with the edification of lamentation. When confronted with confusing and cumbersome realities humans are naturally inclined to be dismissive and defensive. For example, when people are asked, “What do you think about all these protests and riots?” the common response is dripping with defensiveness and dismissiveness. We are desperate to avoid things that force us to reckon with our weaknesses. This is even on display in our reaction to the most customary question of all, “How are you?”, to which we chronically reply, “Fine” or “Pretty good, how about you?” We don’t like lament because it insists we honestly admit our vulnerabilities, insufficiencies, and frailties. Lamentation does not cater to our insatiable cravings for “efficiency,” “solutions,” or “productivity.”
God is compelling me into the edification of lamentation from all angles. Recently I asked my mentor to suggest a good book to help battle and resist the compulsion of anger, and he told me to read “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament” by Mark Vroegop. Then, last week on Monday morning, God had me listen to Brian Habig’s most recent sermon, which happened to be entitled, “Learning to Lament.” Everywhere I look, I see the need for human beings to receive God’s gracious gift of lamentation. Every conversation could, and often should, involve giving voice to our unguarded questions to God, like, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” You may be thinking to yourself, “Why are you sharing all of this with us Tyler? Shouldn’t you be processing this stuff in solitude? Shouldn’t you be keeping such raw, messy, and emotive content in the sphere of private dialogue with God?” Perhaps some of you are unnerved and uncomfortable that such questions should exist at all, and you’re concerned that it’s a slippery slope of irreverence and insubordination toward God. It’s a paradox and a mystery I’ll grant you that. It is also unavoidably clear that God envelopes us in the grace of lamentation in His Word. The only way King David avoided the ditch of despair was by accepting God’s gift of sincerely wrestling with sorrow. And when you personally benefit from God’s weighty and rigorous gifts, you can’t help but to publish and proclaim that good news to others, insisting that they join you in embracing and entering God’s good gifts. So we see that David’s laments don’t stay hidden and locked away in a personal prayer journal, but they are published and set to specific tunes in order that all of God’s people may be enfolded and involved as participants in the edification of lamentation.
Perhaps the most surprising dimension of lamentation is the discovery that hope and joy travel the trails of sorrow. Think of it like hiking the AT, it’s grueling, it’s uncomfortable, it forces you to feel your frailties and weaknesses; but there’s deep satisfaction amidst the pain, and there’s joy to find in every station, even while we constantly wrestle with the reality that there’s always something more to do or bear. Ultimately there is joy amidst suffering and sorrow because the Author and Perfecter of our faith is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; and He is unequivocally committed to personally entering, and sanctifying to us, our deepest distress.
We are exiles and sojourners in this life. We are war-weary soldiers living in enemy occupied territory. And as such we will joyfully steward truth, goodness, and beauty into the lives of sinners living all over East CLT. We are not unlike the laborers who rallied to work with Nehemiah thousands of years ago, honestly acknowledging that there is much to lament in ourselves, in our church community, and in the society at large …but we labor with indelible hope in God’s promises, and faith firmly fixed on Christ alone!