I’m not sure about you, but this is how I’m entering 2021: with lament and hope, a living hope! A number of years ago I came across a teaching video by one of my favorite singers/songwriters: Michael Card. The title intrigued me: Lamenting is Worship ! It’s a deep concept and for a full understanding, you probably need to be grieving. The difference between an idea and an experience is vast. Experiential knowledge is often a knowing that is beyond words.
In my own journey, lament is somewhat new and helpful. In the past, I would spend my energies praying for the negative circumstances to change, or I would worry about them getting worse. In lament we are not trying to change anything. Rather, it is when we acknowledge the darkness and tragedy while taking all of it to God. In some Christian circles, people feel the need to be "up" all the time, “Too blessed to be depressed!” It’s as if admitting things are really bad means we’ve failed somehow. Lament can help. Lament is about being honest about where you are and letting God and friends, family meet you there.
In Rosaria Butterfield’s Book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith, she shares about a non-Christian friend who was dying of cancer. The friend was reacting to the suffering in Rosaria’s life when they said,: “I didn’t give a damn about who God was to you in your happiness. But now that you are suffering, I want to know: who is your God? Where is he in your suffering?”
It can be a powerful witness to those who don’t know Christ when we grieve honestly, yet persevere through painful times. The Apostle Paul urges us to: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). The "tear bottles" pictured above are made by a skilled potter, who happens to be my Mom! What a revelation from God’s Word, "You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your record" (Psalm 56:8)? Not a tear is shed without God knowing, God is with us in our suffering. My Mom made the "tear bottles" for some victims of gun violence in Virginia Beach.
We have a book of the Bible titled Lamentations. It is the response of God’s people to the city of Jerusalem being conquered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. While it’s attributed to Jeremiah the prophet, the book is written in poetic form and may be a compilation of the laments of the people. In the passage of lament below, the word "hope" appears 3 times. The only other time the word hope is mentioned in the whole book is in 3:29.
"I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.' The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord."
- Lamentations 3:17- 26
So, even in the midst of great ruin and destruction, we have reason to hope. Corrie ten Boom, who survived Ravensbrück, but lost her family in that Nazi concentration camp said, “No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still; with Jesus even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.” Amen!
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed” – the Hebrew word for ‘great love’ in this passage is chesed. It is the Old Testament word for grace! Here, we see the focus shift from the terrible circumstances to the character of God! This is a great lesson for us. Knowing who God is gives us hope! A faith that is dependent on things going well is not a faith in God. In spite of the disaster and suffering it is still true, "his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
Our nation and world have experienced a painful year of loss and death. Suffering comes to us all, but it doesn’t have the last word and it cannot steal a hope anchored in God’s love through Christ. Michael Card says, “After all, God used suffering to save the world.”
I pray you are entering 2021 with a living hope that lifts you through the suffering and losses you have experienced. Our hope is in the crucified One, the risen One, who is Christ the Lord. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). In that overflow, may others come to hope in Christ as well!
“My dear friend, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there.” - Charles Spurgeon