So much pain exists in our culture today. The ongoing pandemic has unleashed both intense moments of suffering and death (although this is heavy and difficult, we highly recommend listening to this recent episode of This American Life called “The Reprieve” to experience the “invisible wildfire” of Covid-19 in Detroit) and the slow languish of quarantine. Even as we have raised our voices against systemic racism and injustice in our nation, daily we see new incidents of racial prejudice and hatred. And that’s on top of all the personal things we face around relationships, family, work, and trying to stay healthy and whole in the midst of everything.
This month, Anchor City is diving into what Scripture says about lament. Because we are not God, we cannot see the whole picture. We need some way to frame our understanding of suffering and pain in order to make sense of the world around us. Anchor City is blessed through the photography and storytelling of Jin Cho — from his artistic experience, Jin tells us, “Framing helps viewers focus on the subject. By doing so, it gives a stronger story.”
How we talk about our pain makes all the difference in moving us toward or away from God.
Lament is not simply a gripe session, venting our anger, or even expressing sorrow because of our difficulties. Lament includes those things but is more than just expressing our pain. The psalms, which contain a pretty even mix of praises and laments, reveal a pattern for our laments:
- Acknowledging God’s faithfulness
- Crying out to God for help
- Giving honest voice to our sorrows and complaints
- Confirming God’s faithfulness / Trusting in God
- Praising God
Again, it’s not about following a formula but, rather, framing our understanding of life so that we move toward God in our pain. Lament also connects us to humanity — as Dave Gibbons says, not everyone can relate to our success or victories, but everyone understands pain. And, lament reveals to us a common longing (as Koreans have named, “Han”) for a better world. James Choung, author and Vice President of Strategy & Innovation at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, writes:
The world is messed up; that’s obvious. But what’s more interesting is the human response: how do you feel about this kind of world? No normal person thinks that suffering, violence and oppression are good things. So what does this mean? Most people ache for a better world. But our universal ache speaks of something more. Just like hunger points to food and thirst points to water, so our universal ache for a better world means that such a world either once existed or will one day exist.James Choung, “The Big Story”
When we frame our pain and anger as lament before God, we find that, even in our deepest sorrow, a seed of hope is hidden within. For example, the lament in Psalm 90 might feel quite relevant to today — that in the ongoing drag of quarantine, where days seem to blend into one another, we might learn to number our days with wisdom as we trust in God, for whom a thousand years are like a day.
This week, we invite you to consider the following questions:
- What has been one of your deepest laments during this season?
- How can you frame your lament as a move toward God?
- What seed of hope is hidden within?
We can all agree: This is not how things are meant to be. As we lament, may we faithfully express our pain, sorrow, and longing for a better world.