Learning to Lament
by Linda Rex
Yesterday I began my section of the service by reading portions of some news stories about mass murders both here in American and in the world outside our borders. These stories effectively illustrate the brokenness of our humanity—the natural inclination of the human heart towards evil. One of the hardest things for us to admit as human beings is our proclivity toward harming ourselves and others.
It is easy to read these stories and say to ourselves, “I would never do anything like that! Not ever!” And yet, we find ourselves yelling at our children, crucifying their self-esteem, because they leave the milk out all night, or drop our favorite dishes and break them.
Listening to these stories may awaken a lot of feelings inside of us—feelings we often do our best to ignore, bury or dismiss by the flurry of a busy life. These feelings of devastation or grief at such great loss, or raging anger at such injustice can overwhelm us so much we find refuge in our addictions, or bury ourselves in endlessly new forms of entertainment. Or we may lash out in a violent rage, thereby perpetuating injustice and evil rather than ending it. Facing the reality of our broken humanity, and our own proclivity to harm others and to be unjust is hard work and requires a lot of fortitude.
I believe it would be a good thing if we each could learn and practice what is essentially a spiritual discipline. We need to learn to lament—to learn how to listen to the cry of our heart against evil, pain, and destruction, to allow it to speak to us about who God is and who we are in the midst of our brokenness, and to motivate us to participate in God’s work in the world to right such wrongs. Learning to lament can teach us how to encounter God and his Light in the midst of the very darkness which seeks to destroy us.
When we are made aware of or experience a devastating loss, a horrendous injustice, or a crushing inhumanity, we need to pause and pay attention to what is happening in our hearts. We need to lament. We need to stay in this place long enough to ask God—”How do you feel about this? Holy Spirit, enable me to see, to hear and to know your heart about this right now.”
The reason we lament is to come to a realization of what is going in our own hearts and how it mirrors what is going on in the heart of God. What you feel about these losses, injustices, and inhumane events—your pain, your sorrow, your anger, your desire to avenge the wrongs—this is a reflection of God’s heart.
And yet, how God deals with these things and has dealt with them is different than how we as humans believe things should be handled. And so we do not recognize God is at work in these situations. He is at work—he does not ignore any of this. But how do we know this is true?
First, I believe we have an answer in the prophetic word of Isaiah where he spoke about the Suffering Servant who was to come and who did come in the person of Jesus Christ. Look at what he wrote:
“He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isa 53:2b-4 NASB)
We hear Isaiah telling us about the Anointed One, who was just like you and me, but was despised by the people around him. Often people say that God is the one who inflicted pain and suffering on his Son, but in reality it was we as human beings, who tortured and crucified Jesus Christ unjustly. Going on:
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?” (Is 53:5–8 NASB).
The Creator and Sustainer of all life and every human being took on our humanity and allowed us to pour out on him all our prejudice, anger, hate, fear, rebellion, and all those inner drives which divide us. Jesus walked as a lamb to the slaughter, silent, with no refusal to anything done to him. He took on himself God’s passion against sin by receiving from us all our hate, anger, fear, prejudice and rebellion and becoming sin for us, in our place.
God’s heart about all these things we are talking about is compassion—he enters into our brokenness and sin and suffering and shares it. He became the Word in human flesh (sarx), the broken part of us, and became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him, righteousness meaning we are brought into right relationship with God and one another.
The meeting place between every human being on earth is Christ, the One who is fully God and fully man, who tore down every wall between us in his incarnational life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. God has forged a oneness between all of us in his Son which is unbreakable—yet we experience none of it as long as we deny this reality.
God has already entered into our darkness, fully received our rage against him in his rejection, crucifixion and death, and has already translated us, taken us out of that darkness into his marvelous light, into his kingdom of light. God has already paved the way to our healing and wholeness as human beings by pouring out his passion against all that mars our true humanity, all our divisions, all those things which separate us by taking it upon himself in his Son.
One of the basic lies of the evil one since the beginning has been, you are separated from God and each other. And unfortunately, we believe him. God is one—a unity, a whole, in which each are equal yet diverse. God is love—dwells in perichoretic relationship of mutual indwelling. This is the God in whose image we were created. We were created to live in this way—to love God and to love our neighbor—this is who we are.
God knew beforehand in our humanity alone, we could and never would live together in this way, even though it was what we were created for. Abba planned from before time to send his Son to enter our humanity, knowing his Son would take upon himself the worst of all we are as humans, but in doing so his Son would by the love and grace of all he is, perfect and transform our humanity.
All that Christ forged into our humanity in his life on earth, his suffering, his crucifixion, death and resurrection, and ascension, is ours today and is being worked out in this world by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is at work right now bringing this perfected humanity and the kingdom life of God into real expression in the world. We see the Spirit most active in the universal body of Christ where there is true perichoretic love—we know Christ’s disciples by their love for one another.
You and I participate in the Spirit’s transforming work in the world as we respond in faith to his work in our hearts and lives. If you know what God’s heart is about all these things which are happening today—that God’s heart is full of compassion and concern and a desire to bring people together, and to help heal relationships—then you know how to participate in what God is doing in the world today by his Spirit to make things better.
God doesn’t do everything alone—he includes us in what he’s doing.
The reason things aren’t getting better but are getting worse may be because we are quenching the Spirit of God, we are closing our hearts to God’s power and will being activated in our circumstances. Sometimes we don’t listen to and obey the promptings of the Spirit to pray, or to say a kind word, or to help those in need, or to encourage those who are suffering. Sometimes we refuse to listen to the prompting of the Spirit who is asking us to forgive a wrong, to go make things right with someone we are estranged from. Sometimes we refuse to hear God’s call on our heart to intervene in a difficult situation and to act as a mediator.
And sometimes we refuse to set aside our own prejudices and expectations, and our own animosity against someone of a different culture, race, ethnic group, or belief system. We hold onto our grudges, our resentments, our anger, our sense of injustice instead of obeying God’s command to forgive. We feel we are owed something better.
But I ask you: What could anyone possibly owe us which would even come close to what we owe Abba after all we did to his Son when Jesus came to offer us life and we killed him? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Thankfully, though, God does not leave us in our pain, our brokenness, anger, resentment and sorrow. No, he meets us there. Our failure to live in love with God and each other is the very place God entered into in Christ. He meets us in our failure to live in love and says to you and to me: I am yours and you are mine.
It is God’s nature in our humanity by the Spirit which brings us together and joins us at our core humanity. Abba has declared his Word to us: “My adopted children, the whole human race, are diverse, yet equal, and are to live united, as a whole, as one body. They are never separated from me or each other.” Abba has sent his Son, the living Word, into our humanity to join us with himself and one another—this is our union with God and man. We are always united with God and man through Jesus Christ.
Abba has poured out his Spirit on all flesh so we might live together in holy communion both now and forever. The Spirit works out into all our relationships with God and one another this true reality of our union with God in Christ. This is the true reality of who you are and who I am. You are an adopted child of Abba, the Father, and he has bound you to himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, and to one another. The person next to you is also an adopted child. And the person you just can’t stand is also an adopted child, whether you like it or not, and whether they know it or not.
The Spirit’s work is to bring each person to an understanding and awareness of this reality of who they really are. You and I participate in that work as we respond to the Spirit’s inspiration to bring healing, renewal, restoration, forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, for he has reconciled all things to himself in Christ Jesus. And by the Spirit we participate in that ministry in the world.
Let us through lamenting face the truth of our brokenness and the horror of our depravity. May we see Jesus meets us there in that place with his mercy and grace. May we understand Jesus has bound us together with God in himself so we are never to be separated ever again—we live in union with God and one another forever. And may we indeed find by the Spirit who dwells in us, we are reconciled to God and one another, so we have the heart of Abba and Jesus to make amends, to create community, to restore relationships with God and each other, and so we are able to experience true spiritual communion with God and one another.
The power of lament is the power of the gospel. The power of lament is the power of the Spirit to call us back to the truth of who we are in Christ, and the reality of our reconciliation to God and one another in the finished work of Christ. Let us respond to God’s call upon our hearts to be reconciled. As we live in this reality of who we really are, as God’s adopted children, in our diversity, our equality and our unity in Christ, we will find our world being transformed, healed and renewed.
Thank you, Abba, for your heart of love and grace which you share with us through your Son and by your Spirit. May your heart of love and grace which you place within us find full expression in every area of our lives, and in the world in which we live. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, we pray and we work to participate fully in all you are doing to bring healing, renewal, reconciliation and transformation to this world. Amen.
Reflections on a Blood Bath
by Linda Rex
It’s always distressing to me to hear about another massacre of innocent human beings, and this week’s event in Orlando was no different. How can we, after all we have received of the grace of God, still turn on one another and steal the life God has given and redeemed? The inhumanity, or shall I say insanity, of such an act is beyond comprehension. I hope and pray this event will not end up trivialized like all the others, and just boiled down into a political or religious statement about gun control, human rights or the moral depravity of humanity.
For all the people who had to arrange and attend a funeral for someone dear to them, this is so much more than that. Such unnecessary and horrific loss! To have one’s world so violently rearranged by someone else creates such unimaginable pain and anger.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual happening nowadays. It is still somehow so deeply engrained in our humanity to participate in the evil one’s kingdom in which he comes to kill, steal and destroy. Even our ideologies can be at fault when it comes to the taking of other human lives. But we must go deeper even than that.
We can blame radical Islam for this event, but if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit, that were the situation right, we could do exactly what this man did. Each of us has the capacity to commit horrific acts of evil, because each of us, at our core, is broken. Each of us has our own demons which we fight. None of us is truly innocent.
As Christians, or even as humans of any creed or belief, we need to be really careful not to assume we do not possess the capacity for evil. Too many people have been hurt and crushed by the infidelity or abuse of someone who claimed to be a Christian. History is full of stories of people who said they were godly men or women, but who turned out to be truly evil at their core.
This morning I looked to see how often the word kill was used in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of stories where people killed one another. Yes, sometimes even God allowed or encouraged it, due to the circumstances involved. But this capacity to turn as one human against another began with Cain and has not ceased since.
As I continued to look at the use of the word kill, I noticed there was a change when it came to the gospels. In the gospels, we see Jesus talking about how the Jewish people killed their prophets and telling his disciples the Jewish authorities would kill him too. We see Jesus telling his followers not to fear people who can and will take their life, but to fear, or respect, the God who gives and takes away life. Jesus stressed giving one’s life, not taking one’s life away. He laid down his life for each of us, and calls for us to do the same.
It is instructive that the Jewish leaders of the day worked very hard to be pious, good people, well-respected by others. But their piety was demonstrated by their determined effort to put Jesus to death. The man Saul, who we know as the apostle Paul in his later years and who held the clothes of Stephen as he was martyred, was a clear illustration of this reality. His effort to be God-fearing resulted in his participating in the death of an innocent man, and the killing and imprisoning of many other people in the early church.
The expansion of the early church into the Roman culture came about not because the believers threatened to kill people who weren’t followers of the Way, but because they willingly laid down their lives for the sake of Jesus. It was through their suffering, loss and death that the early Christians impacted the culture around them. Great change came about because of their willingness to suffer and die rather than give up their relationship with Jesus Christ and the blessing of life in the Spirit.
We need to understand the difference between living by a law or moral code, and living and walking in the Spirit while following Jesus. Paul said when talking about the new covenant in Jesus Christ that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6) When we are living and walking in our flesh according to some form of ideology, or some moral code, it is easy to justify killing and destroying another human being. But when we are living and walking in the Spirit, participating in the life of Jesus, we have the desire and capacity to give life rather than take it, and may find within ourselves the capacity to lay down our life for another human being who could even be our enemy.
We see the life-giving Spirit of Christ at work in many places and ways in the world. I see the Spirit at work in the hearts and lives of the parents who so faithfully and diligently minister daily to an autistic or disabled child. I see the Spirit of Christ at work in our community as people work to bring about peaceful resolutions to difficult problems. I see the Spirit of Christ at work in the life of the person who works to care for and studies the environment and the wildlife in exotic locations in the world, and in the life of the one who cares enough about the animals in their neighborhood that they make sure they each have safe homes and good health care.
This is the new covenant life Jesus bought for us with his blood shed on the cross and which he made available to us in the gift of his Spirit. We are bathed in his crimson flood so that we can have real life instead of our natural manner of life which so often leads to death. Why should we continue to live life on our own terms when we have been offered something so much better?
In the taking of the Eucharist, in our sharing through the wine and bread of the body and blood of Jesus, we are reminded as Christ wished us to be, that he stands in our place. It is his life, his death, his resurrection, and his life eternal in his glorified humanity which is ours. We are awakened again to the Spirit poured out on us, alive within us, and are renewed in our capacity to share in the divine life and love, even now in the daily ins and outs of life. It is Christ in us by the Spirit who enables us to love the unlovely, forgive the unforgiveable, and to lay down our lives for those who do not deserve it.
Such suffering as is incurred in the terrorist attacks we are witnessing is not going unnoticed. Such destruction and death will not be ignored. It is a violation of the Spirit of life in Christ which we have been given. And Christ promised never to leave or forsake his children—he is here with us in the midst of our pain and suffering and death, and inhumanity of human to human. He grieves and weeps with us, he endures suffering with us, and is hurt and angered by what we do to one another.
But this is also why he came and took upon himself the whole injustice and evil of humanity. This is why he allowed the pious Jews of his day to torture him and crucify him. So every time something like these horrific events happens, we are not alone. He has joined himself to us in our sin and suffering, and has made us one with himself, so we are and can become something we would not otherwise be.
In Jesus we have the hope that evil does not have the last word, and one day will be fully eradicated from our humanity. In the gift of the Spirit, we see Jesus beginning to work his kingdom life out in our world today in the midst of its brokenness. May God grant us the grace to walk by faith, not by sight, looking beyond this broken world and our broken humanity into the true reality purchased for us by the Son of God and made possible for us in the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Dear God, forgive us for all the horrible things we do to ourselves and to one another. Thank you for joining with us in the midst of our brokenness and evil, and raising us up to life with you in Christ and by your Spirit. Please finish what you have begun—do not give up on us. You know how desperately we need you to transform and heal us and our world. May your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” John 8:37–40 NASB
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 NASB
The “Violence” of God
By Linda Rex
Now that I actually do have cable TV in my house, the other day I was flipping through channels futilely trying to find something I wanted to watch. I happened upon a preacher and his wife who were diligently informing their listeners of the imminence of Jesus’ coming and they pointed to several current events, including the current cycle of “blood moons” as proof of their prediction.
Naturally I flashed back to my earlier years which were filled with “World Tomorrow” broadcasts and sermons about the tribulation coming soon! At that point, my finger hit the up key and I was looking at the next crazy option on the menu (which wasn’t much better).
Later this week I was talking with a sincere, Bible-believing Christian who is on fire for Jesus, and I found myself once again in that place. The end is near! We’ve got to get ready! We must be prepared or we won’t escape disaster! We’ve got to do something now!
Now, I respect these people’s desire to love and serve God, and their sincere belief that Christ is coming soon and that they’ve got to get everyone ready so they don’t miss out. But I am just as concerned that they do not realize how much they are like the Jews of Jesus’ day who expectantly waited for a messiah to come and rescue them from their oppressors and restore to them their kingdom. They so anticipated a conquering deliverer and majestic savior that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he did come.
Sure, John was down at the river baptizing everyone and telling them to get their act together in preparation for his coming. But even he became so unsure of Jesus that after a while he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3).
John the Baptizer, whom Jesus described as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming and was the Elijah to come, (Luke 1:17, 76) had forgotten the lesson of Elijah: God doesn’t always speak to us or rescue us in big and powerful ways. No, he prefers the opposite. Thomas F. Torrance describes it eloquently, I believe:
Recall the contrast between Elijah on Mount Carmel and Elijah under the juniper tree, dejected and dispirited because the events of history after Mount Carmel have not taken the course he had hoped. God had certainly vindicated Elijah’s faith, and the prophets of Baal had been overthrown, but the tyrant forces of evil were still in control defying God’s sovereignty. Then Elijah is taught a supreme lesson on Mount Horeb. He is shown a terrific display of violence in wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in the wind, or earthquake or fire. After the fire there came a still small voice and immediately Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle: that was the violence of God. It is still the same story with John the Baptist. He expected the events of history after the baptism of Jesus to take quite a different course. He expected as Messiah a mighty deliverer coming in judgement and bringing upheaval and violence, who would redeem Israel from the New Testament Ahab and Jezebel, Herod and Herodias, and restore to God his sovereignty over his people. But instead of all that, he saw the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick…Like Elijah, John had misunderstood the violence of God and was offended at the weakness of Jesus, but in Jesus the still small voice of God had become flesh, and that was more powerful than all the imaginable forces of nature put together and unleashed in their fury….
Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgment: on the contrary he continued it, and … he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgment….In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his very intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its incredible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.1
I do realize that the creeds tell us that one day Jesus Christ will return in power and glory. And on that day we will become most truly who we are in him and will shine like the sun. But I think we need to reconsider exactly what Jesus is going to do when he comes.
Will he start striking down all the evil people and evil governments? Will he start killing people right and left? Too often this has been the description I have heard of what Jesus is going to do when he returns.
Wouldn’t a greater, more violent attack upon evil be to just make it irrelevant? To so fill the world and universe with light and goodness that darkness has nowhere to go except away? To so expose the reality of human hearts that they can no longer pretend or hide behind apparent goodness and kindness but by God’s grace become what they truly always were meant to be?
Yes, I wonder.
I think that it is interesting how through the centuries since Jesus died and was resurrected we have continued to see Torrance’s “inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil.” Even though Jesus is present in the world today by the Holy Spirit, we still see the forces of evil and humanity defying the sovereignty of God.
But at the same time, we witness daily, if we look closely, “the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick.” When we actively participate in the ministry Jesus is doing in the world, even now we participate in the kingdom of God. As we actively participate in what God in Jesus through the Spirit is doing and we actually live in relationship with God in Christ led by and filled with the Spirit of God moment by moment, the tyranny of evil and inhumanity of man is being violently overthrown in our hearts and lives and in the hearts and the lives of others every day.
It is in this divine ministry through human instruments that once again we see and experience the “violence” of God at work in our world. And all of this is in anticipation of the fullness of his kingdom at Jesus’ return in glory. In my view, this is what we need to be focusing on.
Dear Jesus, please give us eyes to see and ears to hear who you really are! Father, please take away all that blinds us to your great love for us. Thank you for allowing us to participate each day in your violent work of redemption. Let all we think, say and do be a pure reflection of your light in Jesus by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’” Matthew 11:2–3
1. Torrance, Thomas F., “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ”, Walker, Robert T. ed. Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press, 2008). Pages 149-150.