I have so much sorrow right now. My grandfather is on hospice care and will likely die soon. My sister-in-law feels like the world isn’t a safe place to raise her black son. My best friend’s husband lost his job. Churches are burning and communities are being torn apart by hate. All of this fills me with sadness. A lot of sadness. I wonder if you feel the same way. After the horrific slaughter of nine people in Mother Emanuel AME church, I find myself weeping a lot; lament is all I can muster. Not the lament that ends in praise. My lament is the pits of despair lament. The no sight of hope lament. At first, I wondered if it was sinful for me to feel this way.
Am I a bad Christian for feeling lament, anger, and loss?
But sometimes life can be really horrible. And when life is truly horrible, I think that lamentation is actually a beautiful and natural response to God. My professor, Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, talks about how laments belong in the book of Psalms because questioning, anger, and doubt are actually praises to God. The anger-filled shout to God is an honest communication and it still demonstrates faith.
Crying to God in a time of need is a statement of belief in a God who cares.
In John 11 Mary and Martha lament the death of their brother Lazarus. These beautiful women have so many deep emotions about the death of their brother and they just want to know where Jesus is and why he didn’t prevent Lazarus from dying. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Martha is conflicted. Her words remind us of the Psalms of lament. She doubts Jesus’ timing and yet still has faith in the power of Jesus to resurrect. We know this dynamic well - the tension between death and life, grief and faith.
Later in the chapter Martha’s sister Mary says the same thing. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I’ve heard sermons about how Mary and Martha should have trusted Jesus and not doubted Him. Some tend to be critical of these women for “trusting their feelings” instead of trusting Jesus.
But there’s another way to see them. Perhaps they were communicating with God in the most beautiful, honest, and vulnerable way. Perhaps, in that moment the pain was all they had and they needed an encounter with Christ. They needed to communicate their hurt to the Lord. They needed the perfect and all consuming faith of Jesus. They needed the comfort and assurance of the Lord — the one who knows them to the core of their being.
“God where are you and why won’t you stop this?” is a holy conversation. Lament conversation acknowledges God’s goodness and power without forsaking the pain we all feel in a very broken world.
A youth leader once asked me to share my favorite Bible verse with the group. Stubbornly I replied, “Jesus wept.” I said it because it was the shortest verse in the Bible and I thought this response would show everyone that I was too cool for youth group and the Bible.
But the more I weep, the more that youthful response becomes true. John 11:35, “ Jesus wept.”
Jesus joins in the sorrow and weeps. Jesus does not run from the pain but stays in it. God does not show anger at Mary and Martha but joins them in their vulnerability and sorrow.
In the Women’s Bible Commentary, Gail O’Day writes, “Jesus’s tears may be a sign of his love for this family, as some in the crowd suppose (11:36), but that is not all they signify — Jesus weeps also because of the destructive power of death that is still at work in the world. Once again one sees the intersection of the intimate and the cosmic: the pain of this family reminds Jesus of the pain of the world.”
Rev. Clementa Pinckney will never walk through the doors of Wesley Theological Seminary again. His children will grow up without a father. Sandra Bland’s mother will never see her daughter again. David Wyatt’s family will never get to hug him or hold him. I will never hold my grandfathers hand again or hear him laugh.
But God joins in our sorrow and God weeps with us.
Jane Adams MTS student at Wesley Theological Seminary Worships with National City Christian Church Washington, DC