“Bayer understands lament against God as one of the most profound expressions of faith. This is because the foundation of lament is belief in the essential goodness of God and his creation”
I stumbled upon the above quote in an interesting post by Without Authority which addresses, from a Lutheran perspective, some of the things I’ve been struggling with lately.
The book being discussed on this post is Living by Faith by Oswald Bayer (a new name for me). Here are some thoughts from the post:
Lament is only possible because of the promise that it will be heard
That addresses one of the paradoxes I hold firmly to: that as miserable as I sound in all of my lamenting, I actually experience lamenting and the expression of sadness and anguish as a very hopeful process. Not only does lamenting make me “feel better” (as in getting it off my chest), but there really is a hopefulness in crying out in pain and confusion to God, believing that He knows, hears AND cares, even though I don’t see what He is doing.
When I’ve lamented, I do feel better, because I know I am choosing again to entrust the pain, suffering, confusion and mystery to God. None of my hope is resting in myself and my ability to make sense of it. As crazy as it seems sometimes, I am still choosing to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, even when I cannot make sense of that in the context of the suffering which I see all around me in this world.
Sometimes people hear my laments as an indication that I’m not trusting God in that moment, and the result is that now I’m complaining. For me, it is actually the opposite. I would not be crying out to God if I truly had given up all hope that my cries were heard by Him. I couldn’t lament deeply if I didn’t trust deeply (For one thing, I’d be a lot more concerned with trying to “hold myself together” emotionally, if I didn’t have the safety net of being able to trust God.) I don’t understand or see that He always acts on my behalf, in response to my cries, but being able to cry out the full extent of the confusion and pain to Him flows out of a strong belief that He does hear and is attentive to my cry.
Faith does not conduct a debate about God and God’s righteousness, as does the natural, the redeemed, or the presumably already glorified reason before its own forum. It conducts a dispute with God in prayer and lament.
What do we do with suffering in our theology? How do we make sense of it? And at what cost do we make sense of it? One option is to systematically theologize until there is hardly any room left for confusion or mystery. I’m all for trusting the sovereignty of God in suffering, but I have a hard time when we bring the sovereignty of God down to a manageable level. Sometimes it seems like once we start emphasizing the sovereignty of God, we think we now have the front row view of God’s purposes, and instead of sticking with trusting that God does have a purpose, we feel compelled to jump to conclusions about what those purposes are.
The passion of lament acknowledges that things really are not as they should be. Lament is not satisfied with philosophies (such as Hegel’s) that seem to make sense of the senseless, and in effect, numb the passion of lament. I don’t know–sometimes I am comforted by understanding (sometimes I desperately crave it), but a lot of times attempts that seem to make sense of what doesn’t, appear to minimize either the goodness of God or the reality of evil. And for me, the price of accepting that type of “understanding” is too great. I am not willing to trade the passion of lament (as much as it hurts) for the “passionless stillness of knowledge that only thinks”.
Without Authority goes on to say,
…most people, whether they believe in God or not, have their preferred method of explaining away evil and suffering. Even in the church, there is a sense that we should never protest against God, that God is our friend and he only wants the best for us. Like Hegel’s system, our theologies absolve God and try to erase the pain by explaining that “it’s all for the best.” But this is simply not biblical (just read the book of Job!)
And here’s Bayer on Luther’s take, which stands in contrast to Hegel and popular Christianized views of suffering:
[Luther] does not ignore experiences of suffering. Yet he refuses to accept their finality. He flees from the hidden God to the revealed and incarnate God. He presses on “toward God and even against him calls upon him.”
The post, which I have heavily quoted from, has given me lots to think about. I’ll be pondering these things, including this final quote by Bayer, for a while to come:
Our most profound testing is that God, who has promised us life and external communion, who has guaranteed them, is still the God who does not lament death or destroy it, but who is at work in life and death and all things.
That is the context where I trust. Not because I understand how God is at work in life and death and all things. It is trust/faith precisely because I DON’T know or see or understand. My lamenting puts words to the place where my faith flows out of. Even if. Even if. Even if. Yet will I trust Him. Yet do I believe God is good. Yet do I trust that God is faithful. Even though. Even though. Even though.