What can we do when traumatized by deeds of darkness? In this season announced as joyful, yet followed by Herod’s massacre of the innocents in Jesus’ time, and Newtown, CT in ours. What are we to do? Time to dust off the word lament and reflect on it.
After 911, Stanley Hauerwas advised that the horror of that day “requires a kind of silence.” “We desperately want to ‘explain’ what happened… I believe attempts to explain must be resisted. Rather, we should learn to wait before what we know not, hoping to gain time and space sufficient to learn how to speak without lying.”
What follows the quiet should be a careful process of evaluation and lament, followed by confession, and then a decision to begin the process of a personal and cultural transformation. We must allow time for this process.
To aid us let me recommend reading the Old Testament book of Lamentations in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, where he makes this subject come alive. Lamentations describes the devastation of the once great city of Jerusalem, the exile of the Jews to foreign lands and the grief that followed. He defines a lamentation as and “intense witness to suffering.
I would recommend that you read the whole Book Of Lamentations (Only 5 chapters), but in the interest of time, here are a few selected passages organized around key themes.
Reflect on these themes for a few minutes and prayerfully consider their relevance for us today. Also ask: Who is speaking out about our fallen culture today? What are they saying? What do they identify as the problem and solution? How often are you hearing public statements about the spiritual deterioration of the human race and our own country? How often does God appear as a player on the dialogue? What are we to do?
• The deterioration of a once great city and culture.
1.1 Oh, oh, oh . . . How empty the city, once teeming with people. A widow, this city, once in the front rank of nations, once queen of the ball, she’s now a drudge in the kitchen.
2.15 Astonished, passersby can’t believe what they see. They rub their eyes and they shake their heads over Jerusalem. Is this the city voted “Most Beautiful” and “Best Place to Live”?
4.1 Oh, oh, oh . . . How gold is treated like dirt, the finest gold thrown out with the garbage, Priceless jewels scattered all over, jewels loose in the gutters.
• The horrific evil humans are capable of (And the mystery of God allowing it).
2.20-22 Look at us, God. Think it over. Have you ever treated anyone like this? Should women eat their own babies, the very children they raised? Should priests and prophets be murdered in the Master’s own Sanctuary? 21 “Boys and old men lie in the gutters of the streets, my young men and women killed in their prime. Angry, you killed them in cold blood, cut them down without mercy. 22 “You invited, like friends to a party, men to swoop down in attack so that on the big day of God’s wrath no one would get away. The children I loved and reared – gone, gone, gone.
4.3-10 Even wild jackals nurture their babies, give them their breasts to suckle. But my people have turned cruel to their babies, like an ostrich in the wilderness. 4 Babies have nothing to drink. Their tongues stick to the roofs of their mouths. Little children ask for bread but no one gives them so much as a crust. 5 People used to the finest cuisine forage for food in the streets. People used to the latest in fashions pick through the trash for something to wear. 6 The evil guilt of my dear people was worse than the sin of Sodom – The city was destroyed in a flash, and no one around to help. 7 The splendid and sacred nobles once glowed with health. Their bodies were robust and ruddy, their beards like carved stone. 8 But now they are smeared with soot, unrecognizable in the street, Their bones sticking out, their skin dried out like old leather. 9 Better to have been killed in battle than killed by starvation. Better to have died of battle wounds than to slowly starve to death. 10 Nice and kindly women boiled their own children for supper. This was the only food in town when my dear people were broken.
• Failure of religious leaders to see and speak the truth.
2.14 Your prophets courted you with sweet talk. They didn’t face you with your sin so that you could repent. Their sermons were all wishful thinking, deceptive illusions.
4.13-16 Because of the sins of her prophets and the evil of her priests, Who exploited good and trusting people, robbing them of their lives, 14 These prophets and priests blindly grope their way through the streets, grimy and stained from their dirty lives, Wasted by their wasted lives, shuffling from fatigue, dressed in rags. 15 People yell at them, “Get out of here, dirty old men! Get lost, don’t touch us, don’t infect us!” They have to leave town. They wander off. Nobody wants them to stay here. Everyone knows, wherever they wander, that they’ve been kicked out of their own hometown. 16 God himself scattered them. No longer does he look out for them. He has nothing to do with the priests; he cares nothing for the elders.
• Frustration with God’s silence, and a suspicion that God is allowing the people to pay the price for their own wrongdoing.
1.8: 8 Jerusalem, who out-sinned the whole world, is an outcast. All who admired her despise her now that they see beneath the surface. Miserable, she groans and turns away in shame.
1.9 She played fast and loose with life, she never considered tomorrow, and now she’s crashed royally, with no one to hold her hand: “Look at my pain, O God! And how the enemy cruelly struts.
2.17 God did carry out, item by item, exactly what he said he’d do. He always said he’d do this. Now he’s done it – torn the place down. He’s let your enemies walk all over you, declared them world champions!
• Sorrow and Lamentation.
1.16 For all this I weep, weep buckets of tears, and not a soul within miles around cares for my soul. My children are wasted, my enemy got his way.”
2.1 Oh, oh, oh . . . How the Master has cut down Daughter Zion from the skies, dashed Israel’s glorious city to earth, in his anger treated his favorite as throwaway junk.
2.18 Give out heart-cries to the Master, dear repentant Zion. Let the tears roll like a river, day and night, and keep at it – no time-outs. Keep those tears flowing! 19 As each night watch begins, get up and cry out in prayer. Pour your heart out face to face with the Master. Lift high your hands. Beg for the lives of your children who are starving to death out on the streets.
• Confession and Reformation.
3. 25-36 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. 26 It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. 27 It’s a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times. 28 When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. 29 Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. 30 Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst. 31 Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. 32 If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. 33 He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way:
3. 40-51 Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God. 41 Let’s lift our hearts and hands at one and the same time, praying to God in heaven: 42 “We’ve been contrary and willful, and you haven’t forgiven. 43 “You lost your temper with us, holding nothing back. You chased us and cut us down without mercy. 44 You wrapped yourself in thick blankets of clouds so no prayers could get through. 45 You treated us like dirty dishwater, threw us out in the backyard of the nations. 46 “Our enemies shout abuse, their mouths full of derision, spitting invective. 47 We’ve been to hell and back. We’ve nowhere to turn, nowhere to go. 48 Rivers of tears pour from my eyes at the smashup of my dear people. 49 “The tears stream from my eyes, an artesian well of tears, 50 Until you, God, look down from on high, look and see my tears.
3. 55-57 “I called out your name, O God, called from the bottom of the pit. 56 You listened when I called out, ‘Don’t shut your ears! Get me out of here! Save me!’ 57 You came close when I called out. You said, ‘It’s going to be all right.’
5. 1-22 Remember, God, all we’ve been through. Study our plight, the black mark we’ve made in history. 2 Our precious land has been given to outsiders, our homes to strangers. 3 Orphans we are, not a father in sight, and our mothers no better than widows. 4 We have to pay to drink our own water. Even our firewood comes at a price. 5 We’re nothing but slaves, bullied and bowed, worn out and without any rest. 6 We sold ourselves to Assyria and Egypt just to get something to eat. 7 Our parents sinned and are no more, and now we’re paying for the wrongs they did. 8 Slaves rule over us; there’s no escape from their grip. 9 We risk our lives to gather food in the bandit-infested desert. 10 Our skin has turned black as an oven, dried out like old leather from the famine. 11 Our wives were raped in the streets in Zion, and our virgins in the cities of Judah. 12 They hanged our princes by their hands, dishonored our elders. 13 Strapping young men were put to women’s work, mere boys forced to do men’s work. 14 The city gate is empty of wise elders. Music from the young is heard no more. 15 All the joy is gone from our hearts. Our dances have turned into dirges. 16 The crown of glory has toppled from our head. Woe! Woe! Would that we’d never sinned! 17 Because of all this we’re heartsick; we can’t see through the tears. 18 On Mount Zion, wrecked and ruined, jackals pace and prowl. 19 And yet, God, you’re sovereign still, your throne intact and eternal. 20 So why do you keep forgetting us? Why dump us and leave us like this? 21 Bring us back to you, God – we’re ready to come back. Give us a fresh start. 22 As it is, you’ve cruelly disowned us. You’ve been so very angry with us.”
Read this poem by John Blasé.
In the beginning was the word, scattered everywhere.
Then the word was assembled with experience, colored
with the red of blood and the black of eyes, and the word
became a sentence and the story took shape.
The question posed to the magi was not what gifts do you bring?
but good or bad, either way, can you bear the story?
It is a question best borne with song.
That is why the angels sang, and so must we.
Let us observe the world around us and within us.
Let us think.
Let us lament.
Let us pray.
Let us “take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God.”
Let us sing.
Let us act.