I was running errands on a Saturday afternoon near my friend’s house. This was the type of person who is always glad when you drop in unannounced, so I made a brief detour down my friend’s street. Approaching the house I immediately noticed that no one was outside; which was odd because it was a beautiful day, and typically on such days there would be a flurry of activity in the front yard. I parked my car, went to the door, and rang the bell. My friend answered the door, and I knew something wasn’t right. My typically jovial friend wore an expression of shock and sadness, and I heard weeping coming from the family room. His daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer. When my friend told me, my mind scrambled in search of an immediate solution, and there was a strong impulse to avoid the trauma and heartache of such devastating news. But then it dawned on me, that in such a moment there was nothing to do but lament.
As weeks went by I learned that there are multiple layers of lamentation. There’s the initial tidal wave that sweeps you off your feet; then there are long stretches where the devastating news simply washes over you, like lying in the surf of the sea – and you scan and search for ways to make things better, but the tide just seems to be taking you further and further out into the ocean of despair; and then there are moments where you arrive at the conclusion that it seems completely illogical to accept comfort or continue down the path of hope.
I remember a few months into my friend’s ordeal, his daughter was in the midst of chemotherapy, and I went to Levine Children’s Hospital for a visit. Prior to my visit I had been contemplating the plight of another friend of mine who was in prison. I had received a letter from my incarcerated pal telling me about a guaranteed plan to save the world, but there was a problem …there was no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth able to access or achieve the plan! And in his letter my imprisoned buddy talked about his deep lamentation over this tragic realization. And after some time lamenting and weeping my friend was told to weep no more, because against all odds there was a completely unexpected person who could and would access and achieve the plan of radical redemption! So as I drove to Levine, I decided to share this story with my friend in the hospital. However, once I arrived and saw how sick and discouraged his daughter was at that moment in her treatment I realized that my imprisoned pal’s letter wasn’t going to be heartily received. There was a refusal to receive comfort at that particular moment in the lamentation process. I did end up sharing the story of my incarcerated friend, but it was like offering soup to someone who’s nauseous …they opted to put in the fridge and perhaps they’d get around to consuming it later.
I find that’s just they way it is sometimes. I have another friend named Mordecai who learned of impending genocide against his community, and upon hearing this devastating news he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. His cousin was informed of his lamentation, and she became deeply distressed for him; and she attempted to encourage him to put on regular clothes, but he would not listen to her. He refused to be comforted, and he desperately pleaded with his cousin to talk to her husband (for her husband was the emperor), but she replied telling him that her husband was the one who authorized the genocide, and he had a history of being extremely upset whenever his decrees were called into question; and besides that, she hadn’t even seen her husband for an entire month.
So why am I telling you all this? (1) Because it’s true. It is immature and unhealthy to be simplistic in life. The layers of lamentation are real, complicated, and fairly intense. Though it is uncomfortable, we must embrace the fact that lamentation brings us to the end of ourselves. (2) It is only when we arrive at the end of ourselves that we can see and savor AMAZING grace. The most distressing, and lament-worthy, reality for all of us is the fact that we are evil. All the disease, disorder, and turmoil of our world emanates from the fact that you are evil. Your insatiable impulse to defy and disobey God, and your many attempts to get life on your own terms, is what brought about all the brokenness in the world. The genocidal hatred my friend Mordecai faced is what resides in your soul (see MARK 7:14-23). And only after you feel the overwhelming, inconsolable, wretchedness of your real condition can you heartily embrace the AMAZING mercy and grace exclusively offered to you in the unexpected person I referenced earlier in this letter …the one person who is worthy, able, and willing to access and achieve the plan of radical redemption (see REVELATION 5).