WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?
The book of Lamentations was written by and for people who had survived an unimaginable trauma with personal, political, social, and theological ramifications. What if everything you relied upon for your security, comfort, identity, sense of God’s presence, and hope in the future simply vanished overnight? For the residents of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, who watched the Babylonians smash the walls of Jerusalem, burned down the temple, knock down the houses in the city, and execute the Davidic royal family, the world seemed to lose all sense of order and coherence. Life suddenly felt chaotic, brutal, meaningless, and hopeless. These emotions and the questions that arose from the traumatic destruction of Jerusalem are reflected in the book of Lamentations.
I had similar trauma when I was in seminary. My first year JFK was assassinated. Then my senior year Martin Luther King was assassinated, and as well, Bobby Kennedy the night he won the California primary for President.
The pain continued when I came to believe we needed to get out of Viet Nam. My own brother was badly injured while on a secret mission to North Viet Nam.
Have you had such moments? Life as you recognized it was totally turned upside down by the loss of a job, the death of a marriage, or the death of a child or your spouse?
Lamentations gives us permission to question God. God’s shoulders are big enough. Part of the life of faith is telling God completely what is on our hearts. Even though you hear nothing from God when you are shouting during the night, there is something inside you that knows God is there.
A retired pastor: Bill Hall expresses a Lamentation experience in his life and takes it a step further.
One Saturday night my wife, Cherrie, complained of being cold. Suddenly she began to shake uncontrollably, and her temperature soared to almost 102 degrees. After an ambulance trip, we spent the night in a hospital emergency room waiting for a diagnosis that did not arrive.
That long night I asked myself; “Why do human beings have to suffer?” Was Cherrie’s illness God’s punishment for something she had done wrong—or something I had done wrong?
The question, “Why do people suffer?” had come to me in full force years earlier when I visited my father who was fighting cancer. My search in scripture, medicine, and philosophy had failed to answer this question to my satisfaction. Job was a good man, yet he suffered. His so-called friends came up with answers that do not ring true to me, nor the ending of the book. It felt like a hollow, happy-ever-after-ending. Even prayer has not produced an answer to the question, “Why do people suffer?”
I cringe whenever people give pat reasons for suffering, such as, “It is the will of God.” How could the God exemplified in Jesus be so callous and cruel as to cause suffering? Blaming God for suffering gives me no comfort.
I also ponder this question when I am depressed. But asking this question deepens rather than relieves my depression. Can I really expect God to do what I require of him? Do I dare resent God because he fails to run the world the way I think it should be run?
As I stood beside Cherrie that night in that cold emergency room, I began to resent the doctors for waiting hours before coming and for not giving us a diagnosis. I began to resent God for not healing her immediately. The pain of resentment, along with the pains of anxiety and fear for Cherrie’s safety, deepened my suffering and cut me off from God’s help. I turned my back on Jesus when Cherrie and I needed him most—not a brilliant idea!
Realizing my resentment was interfering with any help Jesus could give Cherrie and me I took it a step further. I began to pray the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Not long before, Jesus had impressed in my mind these words, “No matter what you do, you cannot drive me away. If you ignore, you may not receive my help, but I will always be available for you when you recognize your need and call for help.” Although I still didn’t know exactly why Cherrie was suffering, I was able to more nearly claim faith in Jesus’ promise that he will not leave us comfortless, but that he will come to us.
I finally called on Jesus, “Lord, it’s just you and me here and now, with Cherrie. Help me to help her.”
I heard these words in my heart. Lightly touch her aching limbs. I did and she responded, “That feels good.”
I do not know how it happened, but somehow Jesus reached through my fingers and comforted my wife in her pain. I claim no miraculous cure for her suffering, but one lesson is clear to me: touching my wife in the spirit of love when she was suffering was more effective than being angry at God and the medical establishment any day. Certainly, her suffering presented an opportunity for God’s loving action in that emergency room.
Lamentations gives us permission and encouragement to tell God just as we feel when life tumbles in. It also clears the air and allows us to deepen in faith. Over the years such moments have me more clearly see beyond my point of view and to see what God is doing. Sometimes God is profoundly active in silence.
Most of the people of Jerusalem had died before King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews who wanted to go back to Jerusalem with new ideas about God and their role in his salvation.
First, they realized God was the same god everyone worshipped and acted through the events of history even the evil days and evil people. God also gave them the vision of being a suffering servant people who could absorb the sins of all humanity. It was that vision that seized Jesus and made sense of the Cross for him.
God is acting even when we do not know it. Allow yourself to first share with God your deepest doubts and fears. Then stop and trust that God knows what God is doing even we cannot see it yet, and humbly cry for help. Amen.