This week my social media newsfeed was inundated with articles asking very common questions for times like these: “Where is God?” “What is He doing?” “Why is this happening?” “Is Covid-19 a judgment for sin?” Of course, this meant I waded through some very “cringe-worthy” theories. But, putting the “answers” of Job’s friends where they belong—in the round file—I think we all understand why we ask these types of questions. As people, we want and need answers in life. We long for meaning.
Can Christianity Provide Answers
Contrary to some opinions, this desire for understanding came far before the rationalism we inherited just a few generations ago. All we need to prove this is to read the ancient accounts of Job, Joseph, King David, and many others. This desire for understanding is not confined to Biblical sources only. Humanity has always sought reasons and explanations, especially during times like these.
It should go without saying that there is nothing wrong with people seeking answers. But we do often face a struggle within our questioning. We struggle with an inability to live and carry on by faith when answers can’t be found.
This struggle often leads to two outcomes. The first is asserting reasons that cannot be proven, which then leads to fractures in the church. The second is when we lose faith altogether. Both of these reactions are extremes and neither is good.
One of the more provocative headlines that I read this week said, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.” On the surface, this kind of headline doesn’t sit well with us. Although this title was no doubt intended as click-bait, the article (written by N.T. Wright) was invaluable; and ironically it did offer a clear Christian answer.
Wright’s answer wasn’t a shot in the dark about what God was up to or whose sin was to blame for these circumstances. As a matter of fact, he warned against such guess-work. Instead, he offered an action. Wright proposed that, as Christians, we must learn or re-learn the Biblical discipline of lament.
Not only do I wholeheartedly agree, but I also want to deal with a fuller response to moments when we don’t have answers. I’ll share a Biblical perspective on lamenting while providing a fuller set of actions.
As we delve into this topic, we should see how studying God’s word (and the stories within) has to power to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in His righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)
The Discipline of Lament
What does it mean to lament? Although synonymous with words like complaining or bemoaning, I read an especially helpful definition from Glenn Packiam this week:
“…a complaint is an accusation against God that maligns His character… a lament is an appeal to God based on confidence in His character.”
Biblical lament includes asking God “why” and searching for meaning. But it’s always done with the confidence that God is in control. It’s done knowing that God is good. Even if we receive no answers.Biblical lament includes asking God “why” and searching for meaning, but it's always done with the confidence that God is in control. #biblicalanswers Click To Tweet
In Psalm 13:1, David asked God, “How long will You hide Your face from me?” On the surface, this may sound like complaining. But what we need to see is that David’s appeal is based on a well-informed understanding of God’s goodness. David had an abiding relationship with God, one where David was used to communing with God. It was the contrast that provoked David’s concern.
In our current situation, instead of theorizing about what this Coronavirus pandemic is all about, my suggestion is that we follow a three-fold approach: ACCEPT what we DO know, ADMIT there are things we DON’T know, and lastly, ABIDE in God through it all. (Accept, admit, abide. Pretty simple.)
The best example I could give you is Psalm 13, which has a whopping six verses! But let me share with you how it begins and ends so I can establish this principle.
The first verse says, “How long will You hide Your face from me?” The last two verses end with, “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
Accept. Admit. Abide. It’s all there. David accepts his circumstances, admits he is feeling a distance from God, but he resolves to abide. Notice David’s three abiding actions: trust, rejoice, and sing.During this global pandemic Christians should follow a 3-fold approach: ACCEPT what we DO know, ADMIT the things we DON'T know & ABIDE in God through it all. Click To Tweet
To Lament or not to Lament
A lament is an appeal to God based on confidence in His character. Lamenting is a very important step in times like these. Unfortunately, the very fact that we need to recapture the Biblical practice of lament is yet another signpost that we have allowed our culture to negatively impact the church.
This impact has even led to our unwillingness to endure difficult matters. We live in a day where if everything isn’t positive, encouraging, uplifting, etc. we simply can’t stomach it. We can’t even make it through one day of news headlines without needing a “positive” vibe to reset us.
Church, we cannot insulate ourselves from the difficult issues of life. The Bible never promised we would be insulated, no matter how people like to misinterpret Gods word.The Church has developed an unwillingness to endure difficult matters. If everything isn't positive, we have trouble stomaching it. #church #lament Click To Tweet
There is a trend in this generation to eliminate “negative” people, or block those with whom we disagree, or to only listen to those in our echo chamber (and yes, the church has a lot of little echo chambers within its walls). And this trend is on the rise. This idea of “no negativity” is precisely what has led to a culture of “safe spaces;” a culture that has replaced freedom of speech with the freedom to not be offended. I hope you know this is impossible.
Within this type of culture, we have no room for lament. We won’t even let ourselves get to the point of needing it. This is to remove ourselves from the need of running to God.
That is, of course, until life puts us there against our will. What will we do then? Most likely the unavoidable negative experience will reveal that we have no more hope than anyone else. Church, this shouldn’t be!Is this global pandemic revealing the hope within us or is it revealing that we have no hope? #church #covid19 Click To Tweet
The truth is that difficult times, circumstances, and even people come whether we like it or not. Our choice is not whether or not to endure, our choice is how we will endure. Will we endure faithfully or not? Biblical lament, where we appeal to God based on our confidence in his character, should be our course of action.
We saw that David chose to trust, rejoice, and sing when he faced unanswerable questions. In the next post, we will take a look at how Joseph exhibited this idea of ACCEPT, ADMIT, and ABIDE.
Have you been tempted to eliminate negativity from your life? Do you bring your unanswerable questions to God? I’d love to hear your answers. Comment below or reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).