“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
What happens when a Christianity consumed with being “healthy, wealthy, and wise” finds itself in the grip of a global pandemic with a long tail? In my last reflection Forget the Doxology, I suggested that a church always singing doxology and never lament is not being real. One of the failures of a water-downed consumerist version of church is its inability to deal with the range of human experience and emotions. In a McDonaldized Christianity, in which we stop in on Sundays to consume our spiritual Big Macs, we are failing to take in the spiritual nutrients and exercise needed for the journey of faith.
What is Lament?
The world is indeed “very good”(Gen 1:31). Beauty, truth, and goodness are baked into God’s creation at every level. Yet paradoxically the world is also currently deeply fragmented.
Genesis 3 describes “the fall” when human beings use our free will in the wrong direction. This reveals the mutability of creation, as sin, death, and evil enter the equation. A loving God immediately seeks out a beloved creation with the missional call, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). This is the cosmic narrative in which humanity has participated ever since.
“Free will” is not something unique to humanity; it characterizes all creatures and things, revealing an element of randomness. Rather than God micromanaging creation in a deterministic fashion, God is shaping a world with divine purposes and possibilities as humans emerge through the process of becoming.
Sin is not simply rebellion against God but against creation. While epic goodness, beauty, and truth is baked into the “very good” creation, the universe as we currently know it is corrupted; not only does humanity need redemption, so does creation itself (Rom 8:22). Death, natural disasters, and global pandemics (natural evil), as well as human evil flourishing in individuals, institutions, and systems (moral evil) are obvious features of our current sin-broken cosmos.
Amid this reality, God has given us the gift of Lament… a passionate, honest, expression of grief. This is the heart cry of a people who live in a world where loss, pain, and suffering are our consistent companions. Lament can be expressed through music, poetry, song, and good old-fashioned tears (liquid emotion that flows from our eyes).
Grief and lament are the pathway to healing.
A Biblical Resource
In the Bible, the Psalms and Book of Lamentations are powerful resources to assist us in our healing. The psalmists provide us an entire group of poem-like-prayers to help us journey through grieving called “laments.” A lament gives us a vehicle to release the toxic infection of our wounds. They can also help us discover, “…if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Ps 139:8). Pain is real, and yet God is somehow there with us in the midst of it. These are psalms in which honest anguish, deep distress, and heart-cry-despair can be shared in community with others. Healing begins when we articulate these emotions in an uncensored way…
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.” Psalm 22:1-2
“In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.” Psalm 143:12
“Blessed is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
The language of lament is not neat and clean. It is raw, primitive, and real. It is an honest expression of the language of grief. If we hold onto these emotions, they keep us sick and stuck. As we say in the recovery community, “hurt people hurt people” and “wounded people wound people.” Untreated wounds can infect others. But paradoxically, God uses wounded healers to heal other wounded people. Lament can be a vehicle to release our pain, when we can do so in the context of a healing community (more on this later in the series).
Remember to Lament
When Jesus teaches us in the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4) he is drawing from this larger tradition of Lament. The word we translate as “mourn” (πενθοῦντες) means “to grieve.” This seems like counter-cultural, upside-down wisdom. What do you mean “supremely blessed, fortunate, happy” are those who grieve? We assume blessedness is connected with well-being, wealth, and all of our loved ones being in perfect health.
The beatitudes of the US church could read…
“Blessed are those who kick ass, for they shall win.”
“Blessed are those who suck it up, for they will be respected.”
“Blessed are the gurus, they sell us the magic that fixes our problems.”
“Blessed are our technologies, for through them we will build a better world.”
“Blessed are the effective, even if they are mean.”
Jesus is speaking to a powerless and subjugated people. Inviting them to be real about their circumstances and promising to comfort them in their pain. Jesus is sick in us when we are sick. Weeps in us when we weep. Grieves in us in our grief.
In much of the Western world, we pride ourselves on our rugged individualism. When we experience challenges, we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and march on. We don’t wallow around in our pain. We indoctrinate our sons into a toxic masculinity that says, “real men don’t cry.” We teach our daughters to “put on your big girl panties” and “dry it up.” Ironically, in Jesus we meet a weeping God (Jn 11:35). A God who invites us to find healing in the journey of grief.
We live in a world that is wounded and weeping. Our pace rarely gives space to grieve. But there is a wounded healer who longs to hold us in our tears.
It seems the Church has been slow to realize this. Rushing “back to normal” amid a pandemic that continues to throw a curve ball towards our ideology of progress. We are inadvertently minimizing people’s loss and grief, diminishing their capacity to heal. What happens when we don’t pause to grieve? We can become “hurt people hurting people,” or a sick society, trapped in a toxic cycle of harm.
Perhaps, collectively, we are experiencing “A Grief Unobserved.” Can our friend C.S. Lewis help us here? Stay tuned for my next reflection…
(for more, pre-order Painting With Ashes right here)