Wednesday, August 30, 2006
A THEOLOGY OF LAMENT!
Is It Ok To Express - In Some Measure- Doubt, Anger, Disappointment, Complaint, Agony and Confusion?
Ajith Fernando, in his book, Jesus Driven Ministry - Crossway Books 2002 - talks about "Lament" as a supplement to praise and power in church life. Although this insight only covers 4 pages of a 272 page book, I found it quite enriching.
According to him the Church Growth mentality promotes praising God and celebrating the power of his works at the expense of lament. This does not give room for people to lament their sins or to share daily struggles and problems with others. It reduces the gospel to the level of a life enhancing product. This only reinforces an ambience which discourages people from sharing weakness and issues which might give the impression that there is something defective in the Christian gospel.
Fernando’s prescription is a reminder that the kingdom has not come in its fullness; on this side of eternity we are subject to weaknesses and frailties. Romans 8:23, according to him captures the essence of his position: the Christian although in possession of the first fruits of Christ’s Kingdom nevertheless groans inwardly as he waits the consummation of Christ’s work. We cope with a creation that is subject to frustration (Romans 8:20). Lament and groaning is part of the Christian response to human suffering and loss. He also mentions lament as a key theme in the Psalms, Lamentations Job etc.
Is he right? Fernando is on solid biblical ground. Space probably did not give him the opportunity to expound the biblical themes of lament and agony of our Lord as he approached Jerusalem, in the final week of his life, and his cry of dereliction on the cross. Old songs like, The Old Rugged Cross & At The Cross were part of a spirituality which helped people to configure their sufferings within the hope of Christ’s redemptive suffering. The lyrics of these songs broke our hearts; our sins were responsible for the Saviour's suffering.
C.S Lewis’s, A Grief Observed, and David Watson’s, Fear No Evil, are excellent examples of contemporary lament within a Biblical paradigm; Lewis was grieving over the death of his wife; Watson struggled with terminal cancer. Bible based lament helps us find the gift of God’s holy strength to move on. The Biblical witness is clear: Job’s wealth is restored after suffering catastrophic loss and the writer of Psalm 22 begins with lament and ends with praise. In the past 6 years news of clergymen who unexpectedly died in Singapore were not only a shock but also made me see the need for lament in times of sorrow and grief. One died in a car crash; the other from a massive stroke. Both left young families.
In Bolivia we minister to people who suffer on several levels: divorcees building a new life with their children; unexpected accidents which leave people maimed and dead; abuse in the family etc. Give space for folk to lament as they discover God’s sovereign care in the valley of the shadow of death.
On the other hand lament without a sense of Hope in the gospel quickly descends into self pity and morose self absorption. Hence the need to integrate our experiences, good and bad, in Christ. Our celebration is not empty triumphalism but one that is forged in the pain of failure. And our failure is never far from the Hope that is ours in Christ. David not only grieved but also picked himself up and moved on after a number of very painful events. He not only experienced the full consequences of his own failures but was also the victim of betrayal, persecution and abandonment. His psalms, a mixture of lament celebration and praise, become ours as we engage with the pain of our loss and frailty.
There are other interesting insights in Fernando’s book; next time you’re in a Christian bookstore, check it out.