My wife and I spent three days last week in the hospital with our son. We neither wanted nor expected to be there. At least so soon. He has a condition where fluid builds up in his brain requiring a shunt to be placed in the cavity of his brain. The shunt drains the built-up fluid into his abdomen. It is an amazing remedy to what could potentially be a crippling problem. But it too, along with all other remedies of this world, is prone to prove its insufficiency to resolve and undo once and for all the soul-aching brokenness inside us and around us. He required another operation, called a revision, to repair a malfunction with the shunt that was leading again to rapid fluid build up in his brain.
We knew before the first operation that revisions are often required—some children require multiple revisions in the first few months after the shunt is placed. In that way this week was expected—just not a mere four weeks out from his first operation. But there we were, sending our six month old boy off in the arms of an OR nurse. Any parent who has sent their child into surgery knows that no matter how necessary the operation is, there is an almost unspeakable, unutterable helplessness that rises up in the heart and lays upon it an unwelcome burden. In that moment we were brought face to face with the corruption unleashed by sin, and I wondered with a hesitant shame, “God, why?”
It is the suppression of genuine hurts and doubts that are the expression of distrust in God.
It seemed sinful. To unleash the menagerie of emotions erupting inside—frustration, confusion, anger, hurt—seemed better suppressed than expressed. It seemed that to express the reality of my emotions was distrust of God, and that distrust is what ought to be suppressed. But, in fact, it is the opposite that is true. It is the suppression of genuine hurts and doubts that are the expression of distrust in God.
In order to understand this, we need to recover the necessity of lament in the life of God’s people. Lament is a strange foreigner to our vocabulary, so it is little surprise it is to our practice—the rhythms and patterns that structure and define our life as God’s people—as well. To aide in bringing clarity to the unfamiliar, it is helpful to draw a parallel between lament and confession (which we have discussed previously here). In confession, we rightly reckon with the reality of our sin—that our offense against God is far greater than we know—so that the grace offered us freely in Christ can extend even there. If we masquerade as one less sinful than we are and fail to recognize the depth of our sin, grace will encounter only a charade, a fabrication of ourselves sewn together with pretenses of righteousness, but it will never encounter us. It will elude us, barred by the iron mask of self-preservation. But if we lay aside the masks we hide behind and admit the imperfections that mar us underneath, we find freedom in an almost paradoxical way. The sin we think we can control by concealing it in the shadows actually wins mastery over us there. It is in the exposing and admission of our sin—an act we are tempted to believe gives our sin power—that sin is laid bare and robbed of its power. It is then that the grace of God in the gospel both exposes us and frees us.
In giving expression to the pains and frustrations that confront us as we live in a world that groans with us for the redemption of all things, we open those deep places within us to be comforted by the only One who is greater than all that comes against us.
Likewise, in lament, we rightly reckon with the reality of our pain—that we groan inwardly as we observe and endure the torment of every variety and degree of brokenness inside us and around us. In giving expression to the pains and frustrations that confront us as we live in a world that groans with us for the redemption of all things, we open those deep places within us to be comforted by the only One who is greater than all that comes against us. To ignore or suppress our pain and frustration and confusion is to deny access to the free flowing grace of God that runs even to the deepest parts of us wounded in our affliction. It is to put band aids on wounds that require surgery. While we are sometimes tempted to believe the mark of faith in God is a stoicism that stands above, untouched and unmoved by suffering, such a posture reveals that we actually lack faith in God. We try to quickly dissolve the tension between our knowledge of God’s goodness and our experience of suffering. So instead of crying out to God from the brokenness, we suppress and silence anything we perceive as a lack of faith in God. In our attempts to avoid distrusting God, we trust ourselves. (Certainly the opposite error is also dangerous in which we outright deny the goodness of God based upon the inconsistencies we perceive between God’s goodness and our experience.) We prove more trusting of our own remedies or capacity to endure hardship than we do in the God who is always and forever present with his people to do us good.
When we cry out to God against those pains and injustices that are foreign and malicious enemies set against his eternal kingdom of life, we are asking God to do what only he can do.
It must be reiterated that lamenting rightly is to lament to God—it is a cry to the only God who is merciful and just and good and able. When lament is wrongly directed at anyone or anything other than God, lament will quickly devolve into self-loathing and despair. But when we cry out to God against those pains and injustices that are foreign and malicious enemies set against his eternal kingdom of life, we are asking God to do what only he can do. And here is another parallel between confession and lament. Where confession is incomplete without repentance, lament is incomplete without faith.
The tapestry of lament is woven together with the thread of faith. In faith, we can and should give expression to the menagerie of emotions that well up inside of us when we are grieved and harmed by the effects of sin inside and around us. When we do this, God’s grace draws us forward in hope that one day sin and sickness and sadness will be no more because the Lamb has overcome all that comes against us. Therefore, we can cry out to God in our brokenness and despair and even doubt. As we give expression in lament to those things—to the frustrations and doubts which we suppress in shame—we will in turn, by his grace, learn the sufficiency and supremacy of the comfort of his presence that will endure with us always and forever, world without end.