How do we get the balance right? How do we rejoice in God and lament the brokenness we feel around us? As believers we must not isolate ourselves from the pain and suffering in the world, or take the ostrich approach and bury our head in the sand to the reality of life and the horror of sin. But neither must we be so consumed by the tragedy and sadness that we lose any sense of joy in being God’s people and the certain hope we have for the future.
Our world is deeply deeply broken. And the jagged edges of its brokenness deeply wound those who walk in it. It was brought home to me afresh on Saturday as I went into Doncaster to do some shopping. My normal walk through town to the bank was closed off because of a brutal attack in the early hours of Saturday morning which resulted in the death of 2 young men and put another in hospital. That isn’t an isolated incident. Doncaster has made its way on to the most dangerous towns in which to live in the UK. The tragedy and human suffering caused by sin is readily on display, this is just the latest and most obvious sign of it. But we see it everywhere in our communities. A pervading sense of hopelessness that leads to a numbed acceptance of such events as inevitable, and leads to escapism in drugs or drink, or fearful denial. How do we minister in such circumstances? How do you not just become hopeless?
Too many believers avoid coming face to face with the horrors of sin in the world. They live in a la-la land of make believe distant from life for so many in the UK. Poverty is a brutal reality for many. Abuse is a tragic reality for the vulnerable. A sense of this just being how it is without escape. The church cannot put its head in the sand about such issues, if we do it’s no wonder society questions our relevance and our doctrine, and they are right to do so, because James would question it too!
But for others as they engage with such suffering it seems to drain their hope. How can I find joy in anything when others are stuck in this situation? The brokenness and suffering becomes overwhelming and warps their view of God and they forfeit any sense of joy and hope.
This is where we as the church have to rediscover lament. God has given us a book of prayers in the psalms and a huge chunk of them are lament Psalms, Lamentations does exactly what it says on the title. Jeremiah is not called the weeping prophet for nothing. And even Jesus models lament for us in his longing for Jerusalem to recognise him and turn. These prayers wrestle with the hideous reality of sin and it’s serpent like crushing grip on the world, but they do so whilst holding on to hope. They simultaneously express their broken heartedness at the reality of the world whilst still holding on to trust in God’s love and gracious sovereignty.
It’s only in this battle to see both those truths that we can rightly respond to the sin we see and the consequences that make us mourn. If we only see one or the other, or if we hide from one or the other we will either lose our joy or fail to be moved to help. And ultimately the only hope for the world and for those suffering in it is the good news of the person of Jesus Christ.