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Without Lament We Lie About God

Ellil's headstoneA father, oldest daughter lying in a cemetery a few miles from the church, stands with arms raised and sings ragged, “Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering…blessed be Your name. You give and take away. My heart will choose to say ‘Lord, blessed be Your name.'”

How many times have you exulted over how something worked out just right and said, “God is so good”?

It is easy to praise God when life is good.

We don’t struggle at all to thank God for success-as-we-define-it. And it’s easy for those don’t love God to explain it away as hard work or good luck or “of course Christians thank God for good things.”

What do you say when everything falls apart? When it doesn’t work out and the bills are high and the child doesn’t come home and the test result is “malignant” and the thieves get away with your valuables, do you still say, “God is so good”?

Not so easy. Maybe even impossible. How could that dad sing, and actually mean those words, without the Helper, the Holy Spirit?

I wrote last week how we need songs for days when  we come face to face with our own failures and with the brokenness of the people we live with and the world we live in. When life is spinning out of control and the hits just keep coming, happy-clappy songs often seem to deny the painful reality of life.

Nothing-Bad-Happens teaching has power — faith-destroying power.

Happy-clappy songs can be so damaging because they can lead us to believe that God promises easy life and happy endings. The worst songs (and the teaching that goes with them) imply that even to name the bad things makes them true and gives them power over us.

God does promise a happy ending, but it often comes after our death. God never promises ease and comfort and happy endings here, now, in this life. Quite the opposite. God promises trouble and pain. (“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33) But He also promises to be there with us because He, in Jesus, has walked through every painful experience of life already.

Do you see how this can shipwreck someone’s faith? If you tell me God gets me out of every trouble, and then He doesn’t, I will naturally conclude that God has broken his promise, that He is not trustworthy. Telling me not to name my pain gives it the power to destroy my faith.

For who will worship and obey a God who breaks His promises?

Lament is critical in the life of every believer because lament tells the truth.

Lament admits the existence of the very real evil in the world, even in the life of Christians.

Lament does not stick a trite band-aid on the stub of an arm, pat the person on the head, and say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” And it most certainly doesn’t say “this isn’t real” and walk away, leaving someone bleeding to death. Lament wraps a tourniquet around the wound and cradles the injured as it defiantly cries, “Your arm is gone, it is awful, but our God is a healer and He is good!

The young man has told so many lies he can’t remember the truth or see where to begin to make things right. He came to his friend’s home Bible study desperate but fearful of being judged and condemned by real “good” people. He looks at the song sheet and tears blue the words as he reads “We are the broken, You are the healer, Jesus, Redeemer, mighty to save…”

Lament allows us to acknowledge that we sin, hurt others, and suffer the consequences of our failures the rest of our lives. Lament gives real hope as it points to a God who works in and through sinners, and whose plans cannot be ruined by any sin or catastrophe. We can say with Habakkuk:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habbakuk 3:16-18)

Lament gives solid footing in chaos

In lament we cling to the hope that one day God will overcome the evil in the world. He will make everything wrong right again, heal all the wounds, wipe the tears off our faces, and wash away all our sins and the hurt we’ve inflicted on others.

A first-time mom slips into the early service before hurrying down to the hospital where her prematurely-born newborn is clinging to life in an intensive care unit. The hymn that morning is “It Is Well,” and all she can do is whisper the words as tears stream down her face. “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.'” (A song written by a man who lost his wife and daughters in a shipwreck… “sorrows like sea billows…”)

While people can explain away our praise of God in good times, they cannot explain it away when we praise God in the midst of pain and failure. They cannot wrap their minds around a bereaved father blessing God’s name after his daughter dies or a mother’s peace at the bedside of her preemie or a sinner’s relief in the forgiveness of God.

When we lament, we demonstrate that God’s claims to be trustworthy and forgiving and merciful and love are true enough and strong enough to cling to even after our lives explode. Lament gives us the words to worship God in the aftermath of our own failures, out of the ashes of crumbled dreams, through the pain of illness and injury and tragedy.

The woman holding on for life,
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes
The tears of shame for what’s been done,
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

-Amy Grant, “Better Than a Hallelujah”  from the album “Somewhere Down the Road”

Where do you find words for your laments? Will you share in the comments?


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