Complaining: Lament as a Means of Communication with God

Read these: Lamentations 1:11-12; 2:1-4, 17; 5:19-22 and Habakkuk 1:2, 5-11; 3:2, 17-19.  Does that fit your view of God?  Does it make you uncomfortable that the writers are so angry and voicing their complaints?

The passages in Lamentations and Habakkuk are striking, and unfortunately often left out of the canon taught in many American churches.  Why canonize such desperation, such wrenching accusations and cries for help?  Why preserve in sacred writings this anguish? It doesn’t fit with our modern view of a God who wants us to be “happy,” or our ever-popular prosperity theology.  The purpose of lament does not seem to be explicitly theological – by this I mean that general questions such as “Why do babies die?” and “Why do tsunamis happen?” are not at the forefront.  The foundation is personal experience.  The main problem is not that enemies ravaged cities, that famine and drought came, or that people are dying…it is that all these things happened and God stood by and allowed them.  And even worse than God allowing these horrors, God failed to respond when his people cried out for salvation.

I have a huge issue with churches who promote a health and wealth theology without making room for this integral part of faith.  We find laments in many parts of the Bible: in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Psalms, and others.  I once heard a pastor say “We should never doubt our faith; if we doubt God then our relationship with him is in danger.” I couldn’t disagree more.  If our relationship with God does not have room for doubt, we need to go back and question what we have been taught.  Throughout the Old Testament there really isn’t punishment for doubt.  It is there for disobedience, self-absorption, unfaithfulness to the covenant, abuse of the poor, and failure to follow the law, but not for a broken soul questioning Yahweh.  There will always be times that require lament; there will always be questions rooted in personal loss and devastation that cannot be silenced.

I remember many times when I was younger being so afraid to voice any complaints to God because I was taught that it was disrespectful.  Finally a teacher told me “It’s okay to yell at God.  He can take it.”  While I don’t advocate “yelling” at God over petty life issues, her statement has merit.  I cry out to Yahweh because I do not understand, because it seems as though Yahweh has abandoned me, or worse – ignored my prayers completely.  I cry out because I want the relationship to continue, not because I want it to end and so am just spewing hate.  Lament challenges God, puts him on the spot.  Lament runs the risk that God will still choose not respond and that the silence felt now could last forever.  Lament takes sacred ideas about God and demands an answer for specific situations.  Overarching theological truths have no meaning if God does not respond here, and now.

Yet lament is hopeful.  It hopes that God will respond, that God will redeem, that by crying out God will be reminded his love and return to his children.  That God will once again become the “God who saves.”  It seems to me that lament, no matter how visceral or angry, ends with a question mark.  The lamenter wants a response from Yahweh and restored communication.  The lamenter wants a God-sized answer to a human question.

The most vivid example of lament in the New Testament is Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus knew the cup he was to drink; he understood his role and the awful things he would have to go through.  The problem was not that he was dying as a criminal – it was that the God with whom he had intimate communion and relationship had abandoned him.

There has to be lament for faith to withstand hardship.  This world is a desperately broken place.  Lament is, and should be, a step towards healing.

-as an aside, I would recommend Scott Ellington’s book “Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament” for anyone looking for more theological study on the issue.


Beginning Again…Again.

Today was the first day of my new job as a Claims Adjuster at GEICO.  My husband already works there, also as a Claims Representative, and I’m super excited that I now get to bother him whenever I feel like it!

So I work for the Gecko now.  This means that I will soon have all kinds of gecko related paraphernalia, and I will obnoxiously try to convince everyone that they should switch to GEICO.  Awesome, I know.

We had to turn in a paper today that listed all of our work history for the past 5 years.  For some people, that would be easy.  It took me an hour to fill out that paper.  When all was said and done, I counted 13 jobs over the last 5-6 year period, since right before I started college.  It’s true that 10 of them were part-time or summer jobs that overlapped with my studies, but 13 is still a pretty large number.  That’s a lot of new beginnings.  A lot of new people to meet, a lot of new-hire orientations to sit through.

And here I am, beginning again.  There’s something exciting about beginning, about starting over.  You can remake yourself in a new place, to new people, doing a new job.  There’s new opportunities to explore!  The only issue with starting over in a new place is that you will still be there.  New places don’t magically make new people.  What’s on the inside stays there no matter where you find yourself.

Sometimes, it takes more effort to stick with it than it does to begin again.
Sometimes, a new beginning is just an escape from an old new beginning.
Sometimes that’s okay.
But sometimes you have to stop beginning, and start the middle.

No book would ever be written if the author only wrote beginnings.
No music could be heard on the radio if the composers only composed the first few stanzas.
No marriages would ever work if during the ceremony the vows never got past “I.

It’s not just “I.”  It’s “I do.”  And it’s not just “I do.”  It’s “I continue to do.”  If you stop doing, then all that’s left is the “I.”  The “I” isn’t much good alone.  Not in a marriage.  Not in a job.  Not in life.  It has to be accompanied by the “do.”

But what about when you don’t want to do anymore?
When you’re tired?
or lonely?
What if you just want to give it up and begin again someplace else where no one knows you?

Then you call a friend.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 states, “You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn.  If you fall, your friend can help you up!  But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble” (CEV).

Having a friend means being able to write the middle of our story.  And Proverbs 18:24 says that “There’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (NIV).  A friend that’s there 24/7, 365 days a year.  A friend that won’t care how late it is when you call, or how long the conversation is going to be.  A friend that has an extra comfy shoulder to lean on, and won’t mind if you snot all over it.  Plus, he’s capable of giving you a zillion cheezburgers if that’s what you need.

Okay, that’s a little metaphorical.  You probably won’t need a zillion cheezburgers when you’re sad, unless you happen to be a lolcat.  But it doesn’t matter what you need.  This friend can meet that need, and even more importantly, he’ll be there for you through the whole thing.  Who’s this friend?  It’s Jesus.  Jesus can give you the strength to face anything (Phillipians 4:13).

Even if facing “anything” just means sticking it out a little longer.
Standing strong, instead of turning and running away.
Writing the middle, instead of writing a new beginning…

Soul Storms

It has been raining today, quite violently.  It seemed almost as if the clouds were bitter about something, and had to take out their anger by pounding away at the earth.  I can’t help but think that it didn’t work.  The sky is still dismal and out of sorts.  The earth is a sickly green color and seems to be sulking.  Occasionally a grumble of thunder echoes through the air (the sky has to get in the last word).  Very probably the nighttime will tiptoe in soon and coax the world into closing its eyes until the morning.  Perhaps the sun will deign to show her face tomorrow.

The weather has an uncanny way of putting me in strange and wonderful moods.  Days like today make me restless and a touch wild.  I feel like a tiger in a zoo, endlessly pacing along the bars of his cage.  It is not that I’m unhappy, it’s just that I sense the “bars” of my existence, and notice that the path next to them has become incredibly well-traveled.  It is not my mind that is restless, nor my heart.  It is my soul, that immaterial part that finds itself embodied in a thousand different actions and emotions.  It is the place of being.  I wonder how many people pace through life just like a tiger in a cage  – for the most part content and well-fed, but occasionally becoming uneasy and restless when something reminds them of the outside world.  I wonder how many ignore the uncomfortable feeling until it passes back into the murky oblivion from which it came, and how many agonize over its appearance.  I wonder how many glance down at the well-traveled path under their feet, and sigh that they have seen it so many times before.  I wonder how many shudder at the malnourished, shriveled, desperate thing they find inside themselves.

Octave Mirbeau, a French journalist and art critic, once said, “When one tears away the veils and shows them naked, people’s souls give off such a pungent smell of decay.”  The soul is perhaps the most neglected aspect of our being.  It is routinely forgotten, ignored, smothered, and starved.  A scratch on one’s body is immediately cared for; a scratch on one’s soul is left to fester for long periods of time, and is often never attended to.  It is only on the occasional stormy day that it is remembered, when the restless longings gather enough energy to touch one’s emotions.

Have you ever met anyone with a healthy soul?  They are vibrant, passionate, and overflowing with love and mercy.  Sadly, these persons are so few and far between.  I dare not place myself in that category; I know all too well the state of disrepair my own soul is in.  When the soul is not healthy, vibrancy and passion fade into apathy, love and mercy to self-absorption.  It is not the soul that gets fed, it is the miserable, gluttonous carnal nature.  And yet, it is not difficult to nourish a soul.  It only requires a willingness to listen.  The Lord speaks to those starving souls in Isaiah 55:2-3, saying “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” It’s almost too simple.  All that is required is a walk into arms that are already open, and a conversation?  The Lord will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7).

It would be enough if it stopped here, but it does not.  It is not only sustenance, relationship, life, and conversation that is offered.  It is peace and healing, rest and redemption.  “Peace, peace, to those far and near, ‘says the Lord,’ and I will heal them” (Isaiah 57:19).    It is an opportunity to be clean, to be whole, and to have the shriveled core of our being lose its sallow color and gain a glow of contentment and fulfillment.  We have only to make the approach.  He stands, waiting, never tiring of whispering “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:2829).

Perhaps when our souls are satisfied, the most dismal weather – literally or figuratively – will be unable to make us restless and discontent.  Perhaps we will be able to say as Goethe did upon awakening in the morning, “Nothing is worth more than this day.”