Tuesday 16th October was the first ‘Deep Church’ seminar of the term, Robin Parry speaking on the book of Lamentations. He posed the question “What can Christians do with the book of Lamentations?” [A reminder that the next one on political correctness and Christ is on the 30th October] James Prescott went along to the seminar and kindly wrote this piece on his reflections...
I was unsure at first whether to write this as a straight report, but instead have decided to put down what I felt God was really speaking to me and others about.
Robin said that we need to read the Book of Lamentations both in the context it was written and in light of the New Testament, so we can come to a fuller understanding of it. He mentioned several themes – blessing, destruction, rubble and new life – the first three of which are all found in Lamentations, and all of which can be seen in humanity, Israel and in Christ. And, I thought, can all be found in our culture today. More on that later.
There were two main points that came through to me.
Firstly, lament and worship. Going to a place of pain and worshipping God. Robin discussed how so often we go to church and worship and sing praises to God, but those can so often be total lies in truth. We spend so much time thinking we have to be happy and joyful in worship, when we are actually in a lot of pain. He said there must be a place of lament in the spirit and lament in worship.
It was spot on. From going to a place of pain, we draw closer and more intimately towards God, we share more in His sufferings and He shares in the reality of our lives. We might even be in a good period in our lives, but trusting God and allowing us to be emotionally vulnerable by going to share in His pain, in the way He must feel about what is happening in the world now, with its injustice and poverty, then we understand more about God and can be spurred into action.
Life isn’t all about being happy. Life is not always happy, the Bible isn’t always happy and Jesus isn’t always happy. There is a place for lament. In His lament Jesus totally submits to God, He gives in to His will, He simply trusts Him.
Of course, in the end, He is triumphant. Lament leads to victory.
My second point is that so much of the culture described in Lamentations as described by Robin reminded me of our culture now. He said they were in an emotional and theological crisis, within a culture of shame and honour.
Remind anyone of today?
We are in an emotional crisis. People are suffering from emotional problems of one kind or another more than ever, relationships are breaking down more and more, there is so much confusion around.
We are in a theological crisis of a kind. The Anglican church is divided, the church as a whole is known more for what it’s against and its divisions. Prominent speakers are calling others heretics. The church is declining.
We have a culture of honour and shame. Only we call it the celebrity culture. One minute you’re near on god status and everyone loves you, the next you are the worst thing to happen to the human race. The whole media culture is based around building people up then knocking them down again.
People are in desperate need of Jesus. The book of Lamentations has arguably never been more relevant.
How do we as a church respond to all this?
Personally I think we need to be real. We need to be honest. We need to live out our faith. We need to be Jesus to the people around us, we need to be involved in doing something about the poverty and injustice in the world and in our own community. We need to be known for what we stand for, what we believe in, what our values are and what is important to us. We need to be counter-culture. That’s what being a Christian is, its part of our DNA, not an optional extra and it applies in a church community context and an individual one.
The church needs to be a safe place where people can be free to be honest and express their pain and encounter God and allow Him to minister to it. A place which shows love to those who have none, which has truth and love for a hurting and cynical world. A group of people who take the lead against the injustice in the world. Church leaders need to be honest about pain and the reality of pain.
I think often the world thinks Christians don’t feel pain or try to hide their pain behind the smiles. In the case of the latter I think it is almost certainly true of some Christians and churches today – and some churches are like that too.
We need to be honest with people about our pain and our frustrations. We need to be honest about our weakness. But the difference is then that we can show people that there’s a safe, positive way of dealing with it and getting real healing and support. A place where its okay to feel pain. We need to be honest that we don’t always understand pain, why suffering happens, that we can’t always explain it – but that despite we still have faith that God has felt that pain through Jesus and can deal with it with us. Despite our pain, we can still praise God.
That’s a powerful message to a world full of pain.
It’s a big challenge for us all. Can we rise to it?