One of the best things you can do in life is to partner with people that are smarter than you. That's what I'm doing today. Josh Rouse is part of the leadership team at Village Church in Hayesville, NC, and we are guest writing for each other's blog today. If you haven't been reading Josh's blog, you are in for a treat. After you read him here, check him out at his blog home:
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Paducah, KY. New York. The Pentagon. London’s Underground. Nickel Mines in Amish country. The Taj Mahal. Newtown. Boston. Paris.
Sadly, I know I have overlooked some well-known tragic sites.
How does one give words to such events? Especially here: fresh off the latest example of mankind demonstrating its capacity for horrific evil How do we make sense of such tragedy? Of such heinousness? Of such wickedness? Of such darkness?
I have no idea.
I was struck as I watched the news unfurl on the ticker and social media this weekend: we don’t handle these events well. I saw things like, “This person will be brought to justice.” “Never forget.” #prayforParis.
Tragedy occurs and we reduce it to a hashtag.
But really, what are we supposed to do?
The political jockeying has begun littering my Facebook newsfeed again. Everybody’s passive-aggressively letting the world know their views on issues like terrorism, revenge, and the way our country handles refugees by how they are clicking “like.” And in the days to come, we’ll practice our expertly honed tradition of finger-pointing and blame-assessing.
But that doesn’t satisfy the question: what are we supposed to do with out hurt? Our pain? Our anger? Our rage?
In this time, however, I’m reminded of the usual:
Left to itself, mankind can be incredibly dark.
But I’m still wondering where we go from here? Who do we blame? What do we blame? How is justice served? How are things made right? How does restoration take place? Can it take place?
And I don’t know. I have some thoughts. But here’s what I do know…
In the Old Testament, there’s a book called Lamentations. Most scholars attribute it to the prophet Jeremiah, who’s often called “the weeping prophet.” The Jewish people have suffered the destruction of the temple and exile to a foreign nation. It’s an offering dealing with pain, horror, and grief. The Jewish people were in a state of “what now?” and their mindset and desperation are captured through Jeremiah’s words.
And there’s something else going on in the pages of Lamentations. Jeremiah voices some of the boldest critiquing of God to be found in all of scripture.
In the movie Mean Girls, the “popular” high school girls keep what they call a Burn Book. Basically, this Burn Book is a compilation of all the embarrassing, stupid, ugly, questionable things their classmates have done. It’s more like a black mail book. Within its pages, you could find the latest gossip and slander about the student body.
Lamentations reads somewhat like a Burn Book. Here is Jerusalem: the capital of God’s chosen people; and it is in ruins.
Not only that, but God stands as the accused. Jeremiah and the people blame him as the one who brought it to ruins.
The LORD has brought [Judah] grief… (1.5)
Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me…? (1.12)
The LORD has sapped my strength… (1.14)
The LORD has rejected all the warriors in my midst… (1.15)
The LORD has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah. (1.15)
How the LORD has covered the Daughter of Zion with the cloud of his anger! He has hurled down the splendor of Israel from heaven to earth… (2.1)
Without pity the LORD has swallowed up all the dwellings of Jacob… (2.2)
In his fierce anger he has cut off every horn of Israel. (2.3)
The LORD is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel. (2.4)
[The LORD] has multiplied mourning and lamentation for the Daughter of Judah. (2.5)
The LORD has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary. (2.7)
[The LORD] has overthrown you without pity, he has let the enemy gloat over you… (2.17)
In the day of the LORD’s anger no one escaped or survived… (2.22)
And that’s just two of the five divisions of Lamentations.
There is no rousing speech at the end by God defending his name. There’s no Say Anything end to Lamentations, with God holding a boom box over his head, blaring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” There is a strange turn, however, as Jeremiah wraps up God’s Burn Book: the tension doesn’t resolve. There is no “they lived happily ever after.”
The Bible continues on though. The story doesn’t end there. God hears the hurt, the betrayal, the pain, the desperation. And he doesn’t zap Jeremiah and the people dead. He takes it.
In the midst of the accusation and anger, God takes it all. He is not afraid. He listens to his children.
Lamentations reminds me of an encounter I had with a good friend once. We were changing classes in high school one day and pushing each other around. Whenever it rained, a corner of the courtyard area would puddle up. This day, however, it was wet and incredibly cold. The puddle was no puddle. It was an ice-skating rink.
Funny thing about this good friend of mine: he had a temper. You knew what would push his buttons and set him off. (Well you didn’t, but I did!) So as we made our way past the ice puddle, I continued our shoving game by pushing him out onto the “rink.”
And there were all sorts of people were heading to the cafeteria (where we were coming from) and going to class (which we were). So as I shove my friend, he skates out onto the ice and does what could only be described as a gold medal worthy routine. And it felt as if it lasted forever.
My buddy is just flailing around like Nancy Kerrigan on a bender and a rather large crowd has gathered to watch. As the onlookers are entertained by the routine, I watch in horror because I know what is coming. My friend is going to blow his top. I have seen it rear its head. As soon as he gathered himself, he looks at me and sees dead red.
He charges like a bull and wraps me up around the waist. We’re both around 6’ tall, so this is no dwarf wrestling. He punches and grunts and snorts, angry as he can be. Yet I knew what I needed to do. I needed to let him get it out. So I held him and let him blow off his steam. It was a rare moment of extreme clarity (very rare in the life of a teenager). I had wronged him and now I needed to take my medicine—one body blow at a time.
I tell you that story because it reminds me of what’s happening in Lamentations. There God is: holding Jeremiah and the people, letting them blow off their steam, letting them vent and honestly share what they are feeling. He’s taking it. He hears every bit of it and he absorbs it.
In times like these, as we struggle with the whys? and the what-fors?, don’t be afraid to bring your questions, hurts, ills, pain, confusion, and desperation to God. He will take it. Don’t hold it in. Don’t hold back. Real. Honest. God will hold you while you swing away.
May you struggle with the whys? and the what-fors?. But may you know that the whys and what-fors? have an outlet. They are not meant to be bottled up and buried under the rug. There is a place to go with them. Specifically, there is a person to go to with them. The Almighty One, God himself, is big enough to take your hurts and fears. So may you bring them before him today. And find that he is far more loving, gracious, compassionate, and caring than you ever imagined.