At CityLife we are reading through the Old Testament and currently preaching through the prophets at our weekend church gatherings. I'm not sure what preaching team meeting I missed where the straws were pulled on who preaches what, but somehow Lamentations fell at my feet. After a year of mourning the death of my beautiful mother, dealing with the ordeal of all of our children and two of their friends being in a horrific car accident, dark humour kicks in – of course: Lamentations!
Background: Scholars place Lamentations somewhere around 587 BC. Some attribute the authorship to Jeremiah, but that cannot be proven, so we will simply refer to the author as the Poet. Lamentations is exactly that – a Hebraic poem of lament. The poet is watching as everything dear to him is being destroyed by the Babylonian army. He is recording horror that most of us will not see in our lifetime: cannibalism, rape, and murder. His theological reflections are subtle and he does not resort to cheap grace or easy answers (or any famous Pentecostal clichés), but faces the possibility that Yahweh may have finally rejected His people.
There is no resolution in sight. There is no Happy Ending.
We hate that. All the fairy tales that we love end with the famous words, “... and they all lived happily ever after”. We want that happy ending - that moment when the hero rides in and everything will be alright. In fact, when we don’t have a happy ending we simply re-write it. Like Baz Luhrman has just done for the movie Australia about to be released in our cinemas. A test audience in US gave it the thumbs down because of the tragic ending. What does a director do???? You rewrite it! [Click here to read the full story]
In real life we cannot rewrite our ending. We cannot fool-proof our journey. That means that suffering, grief, death, and heartache are a common occurrence on our planet. The book of Lamentations deals with these issues. Maybe that is why the book, along with Job, is avoided in so many “victorious” churches. I think a virus in some Pentecostal churches that needs to be addressed is this very issue – a shallow theology that does not allow for pain, suffering, and “no happy ending”. What becomes even more insidious is that people who suffer in these churches are condemned for their “lack of faith”. How totally bizarre when we read the Bible in its entirety and recognise that pain and suffering interweaves with not just the people of God, but the very Godhead.
Lamentations is a poem about suffering. The poet feels great sorrow – the sorrow of loss, of regret, of the possibility of no happy ending. Yet the very fact that the poet laments to God shows that he believes God is, that God hears, and, as recorded in chapter 3, that God’s mercies, despite the dire circumstances, are new every morning. The thin, unbreakable thread that runs through this tragic poem is one of hope. Maybe our desire for a happy ending is more spiritual than we realise.