As a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I know a thing or two about lament...and I haven't been following them as long as some people I know. But before that, growing up, I was a fan of the Detroit Tigers, so I guess that does qualify me to speak into the agony of following a sports team just a little bit. There are a whole slew of emotions connected to rooting for a group with whom you identify, and sports is one of the most overt ways we show it in our culture. We are incensed when a call doesn't go our way. We groan inwardly or emphatically express it outwardly when a respected, dependable player makes an avoidable error. We chafe at the coach or manager who fails to implement what we see as the optimal and winning strategy, and fault them loudly when the outcome of their choice leads to the failure we could have obviously predicted. We feel like things are right in the world when our team is at the top of the league or division, but fall into an emotional funk when our team's name falls to the bottom of the list. It's not easy to be a Cubs fan (or any fan, for that matter), and "at least we have next year" simply doesn't calm the notion that we could have done better this year.
Being a part of God's family isn't much different. God has placed us together, for better or worse, to fulfill His mission, and we all play a part on His team. We function as a body (1 Corinthians 12). There's no such thing as "Lone Ranger" Christians, I always say. We need each other. However, I've also been known to remind people of this fact: Family is messy. Family is good, but family is messy. Things don't always go as they should, and sometimes they're just downright hard and sharp and broken. Sin and death does a pretty effective job of throwing God's family into discord and urging them to deny their identity as His very much-loved children by their actions. And so whether it's Christian leaders highlighting the moral failings of their people or members of the family pointing out the shortcomings of its leaders, there is plenty to lament about what happens in the church. And let's not even get started with what happens out in the world...there's plenty more to lament there!
My point is this: we all experience losses, and we may often feel ill-equipped as God's people to handle the big emotions that go along with those losses in a way that honors God and leads us closer to healthy relationships with Him and others. Does sin's brokenness find a way to slither into the church and cause trauma and divisions in God's family? Unfortunately, yes. Does this world and its leaders often make choices for all of us that makes us feel like we don't belong and that our beliefs are antiquated? Yes. Are some of the parts or formats of our life together as God's people that we hold dear and have been strongholds in our lives as long as we can remember slowly (or sometimes strikingly quickly) passing away? It's almost physically painful to admit that they are. Are there big emotions attached to these developments? Of course there are! Anger? Sorrow? Indignation? Disgust? Frustration? Fury? Groaning? Discontent? Check, check, check...and the list could go on. If you've felt some of these big feelings in the church before, I'm with you. I've experienced them too. Being a follower of Jesus often involves engaging the wide spectrum of human emotion. But how are we to start finding our path toward a healthy expression of these big feelings...and maintain our integrity all the while? We know we've been called to orthodoxy ("right belief"); how do we also move toward orthopathy ("right feeling")?
I firmly believe that it begins and ends with the two most important events in Jesus' life: His death and resurrection. These two events should inform and encapsulate our approach to the complex art of Christian lament. It starts with a firm resolve to lament the only thing in this world that truly deserves an outpouring of sincere lament: the unjust death of the only God-Man who didn't deserve it. We don't just mourn our own sins on Good Friday. We also mourn the results of them, and our complicity in this genuine tragedy. If Christian lament starts with the laser-focused sorrow over the death of God's own Son, we'll be starting down the right path. The Greek word for "sin" is properly used as an archery term, and expresses the idea "missing the mark." Not only do our actions, words, and thoughts miss the mark or fall short of God's intent and glory (Romans 3:23), but even our lament over the things we have lost are often untargeted and unintentionally wound those around us. But Jesus' death on the cross and the great love He showed in those moments lead us not only to lament the effects of sin in this world, but also to be eternally grateful that we have a God who handles them, full-force, no holding back.
When we truly lament Jesus' death, we'll also be in the right posture to celebrate with unfettered joy what came after it: the resurrection of God's Son. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! No more lament! The great destroyer is destroyed! "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54d-55). Mourning and weeping at the cross of Jesus gives us all the emotional fuel we need to dance at His empty tomb, to celebrate the victory He has won for us.
This side of heaven, separating out these complicated mix of emotions will never be easy. But we have Jesus' promise that one day, in the new heavens and new earth, all lamenting tears will be wiped away (Isaiah 25:8), and the only thing left will be the joy of knowing God, living always in His presence. That will come to pass. We have God's Word. But until that day, we look to God to lead and direct our path through lament and sorrow, giving us glimpses of Easter joy, because...
Adventure is out there!