|“I have a friend who was in Jakarta after the tsunami. There was a man sitting on the curb who’d lost everything – family, wife, kids. He was a Muslim man. My friend is a pastor. He sat down and was just overcome with this man’s situation. He began to weep with him. The man turned to him and said, 'You must be a Christian.' So without saying a word, this man recognized that Christians are ones who will come and weep with us. To me that was tremendous.”
Lament: The Dark Side of the Journey
By Jennifer E. Jones
lament: to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often demonstratively : MOURN
It’s a wonder that Michael Card isn’t severely depressed.
When he calls CBN.com, he is in the middle of writing The Hidden Face of God – a book of 40 essays on lament. “I’m on No. 22,” he confesses.
He just finished an album by the same name and the same topic . That’s a long time to be thinking about pain and suffering. What would possess a man to spend his years delving into the dark side of Christianity?
“Right after 9/11, a friend of mine in Toronto sent me a postcard that had one sentence on it: ‘You have no song to sing,’” Card recalls. “It was a very powerful challenge mainly because he was right. I didn’t have any songs to sing to address that kind of tragedy or that level of suffering.”
The disturbing postcard led Card to the Old Testament, and he began studying lament. His first effort in understanding was his book A Sacred Sorrow (Nav Press, 2005). Card’s research led him through the Bible, and he also learned a lot by talking with other people -- especially Christians from other parts of the world.
“I work with a group called WorldServe. We support the pastors and families imprisoned in China,” Card explains. “I would ask about lament, and they would deny. ‘Oh no, we don’t lament.’ I didn’t understand until one of the pastors explained that for them it’s a very intimate thing.”
While Card was in China, he visited church services that helped illustrate the pastor’s point. “I saw that there were a lot of tears and honesty in terms of biblically offering up those things as an act of worship. In the East in general that tends to be the way it is.”
So what is lament? If you’ve ever prayed, "Why, God, why?", then you’ve already done it. King David lamented often in the Psalms, as seen here:
O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. [Psalm 6:1-4, NIV]
Card found that even those outside of the faith understand the concept of lamenting.
“I was speaking at Columbia [University], talking about how no one laments,” Card says. “One of the grad students asked, ‘Have you listened to Counting Crows?’ He named half a dozen secular groups where lament was very much a part. Of course, it’s a different kind of lament. It’s hopeless lament.”
There is a biblical way to lament, and according to Card, it is part of worshipping God. He says, “Biblical lament never loses sight of God. It’s always a prayer to God. The character of lament for us is different. We don’t mourn as those who have no hope.”
So how does this fit in with the Christian that should be full of thanksgiving and joy?
“The only way you can live a lifestyle of thankfulness is to be honest with God,” Card answers. “Apart from the Bible and spirituality, if God is omniscient, it’s foolish to not be open with Him. To try to hide your feelings and your struggles from Someone who knows everything is not a good idea. When you take into account how God is revealed in the Bible, from the very beginning, He is a God that really cares. Job is a great book that demonstrates that He is moved by tears. He moves from the throne, and by the end of the book of Job, He shows up, which is the great miracle.”
Because suffering is a universal part of life, the ability to lament can be used to draw non-believers to faith in Jesus Christ.
“There’s an evangelistic piece of it that connects,” Card says. “This gets back to the incarnation when Isaiah says that He’s a man of sorrows and is familiar with suffering. Hebrews says that the reason He’s qualified as our High Priest is that He suffered. The fact that Jesus wept with people and entered into their suffering and their confusion – that’s a piece that’s missing from our world… [They’re] hungry to see this side of us.”
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