We are not consumed...
?“Lonely lies the city” are the opening words of the Old Testament book of Lamentations. The writer wrote those words after witnessing the devastation inflicted on Jerusalem and Judah at the hands of the invading Babylonian army. These are words which express, with total honesty before God, what the writer felt at seeing the destruction of all he had known and all he had taken security in: “lonely lies the city...”. Lamentations poetically expresses how the writer had seen his own people stripped of their homes and belongings, witnessing the death of family members, friends, and children, and the very real possibility of the extinction of his nation’s culture and society. In the Hebrew the title of Lamentations is “Ekah” which actually translates to “how....!” Throughout the writer’s words it is as though he is constantly coming before God with the prayerful question, “how?!” “How did all this happen, God? Do you not see what is happening? How could you allow this?
Lamentations gives us a picture that God is not afraid to hear us express our true emotions before Him, our questions and struggles, in prayer and in crying out before Him. Whether it be with great pain, grieving the loss of things, or with fear. Lamentation is a necessary part of faith. It’s something we’ve largely neglected and overlooked in the contemporary church, but it has a rich history throughout the Hebrew and Christian traditions. The Scriptures establish a very powerful precedence for lament as a legitimate expression of human experience before God. Lamentation forms an integral part of faith in the scriptures. A huge number of the Psalms are lament psalms. The prophets lamented. Even Jesus laments the waywardness of Israel. And yet it is a vastly misunderstood and neglected element of our faith today.
In the scriptures, lament is not just about sadness and loss. It is about honesty before God about what we have endured, or are enduring, and how we feel about it. Sometimes it involves weeping. Sometimes questioning of God. Sometimes it is a pouring out of all our fear and anxiety about what might happen. But it is always with a hope, where we turn from that emotional and prayerful pouring out before the Creator, toward something of renewal. In the Bible, lamentation always moves toward the promise that God will ultimately renew and restore all things, even if we can’t see it yet and even when things seem devastated.
So many of the promises we have been given in the scriptures came to people in the midst of chaotic situations like those recounted in Lamentations; people facing plagues, famine, war, extinction at the hands of invading nations. Today around the world many people face these same things everyday. One of the aspects of living in a country like Australia is that most of us have never had to live through such experiences and dangers. And so we easily forget that many people around the world face these things on a daily basis, and in many parts of the world today people of faith risk their lives daily to express that faith. We do not have such dangers here. And so one of the elements of what we are all now facing in this current world pandemic is a “shaking up” of so many of the things we are accustomed to in our daily lives: our health and our system of health care, our freedom to go out and do what we want, to attend events, the security of our jobs and schooling, restrictions on attending places of worship. And what this shaking up does, in all its uncomfortable and disruptive presence, is bring to the surface fears we hold, as well as things we find security in which may not actually be as secure as we had thought they were.
To find God in the midst of such chaos is what we must seek in these days. Not only the promise that He is with us and that He is in control, but the deeper aspects of faith which He desires to reveal to us and mature in us through these times: where does our sense of security and peace lie when it feels like things around us are falling apart? Where do we draw our joy from in the midst of great fear? What does church look like when we cannot meet together physically? What does faith look like in these times and how might it be an expression of peace in the midst of chaotic times? Because of the pain and fear which these types of questions can so easily stir up in us, many of us might choose to avoid asking ourselves and asking God such things. But the writer of Lamentations, facing the most extreme of situations, goes right to the heart of such questions before God, with the knowledge that God is to be found and experienced in deeper ways through such questioning.
In the same way Easter is a story of peace and renewal in the midst of a chaotic world. Jesus does not enter human history at a time where everything is at peace and in its right place. He enters instead at a time of great struggle, born into a people oppressed and ruled by another nation, amidst great political and religious tensions, and at a time where the divides between people of different races and cultures was very much apparent.