Thursday, January 03, 2008

The greater laments of the Christian

This is a bit of a tangent from my posts on Lamentations, sparked by comments at Neil Bennets blog. I'm thankful for Neil's blogging and for his responding to comments.

1. Lamenting Christians? It seems to me that possibly the greatest laments are for Christians. First, there are the lamenting groans of Christians in a world given over to wrath and sin ahead of the new creation. We see the dehumanising effects of divine wrath revealed in human sin. Then, there is the even greater lament that flows from one of the most exhilarating moments of the New Testament (Romans 8-9). Paul is caught up in the clouds of joy over the way Christians are in Christ caught up inseparably in the love of God forever. A most ecstatic moment of worship. No sooner has he uttered this glorious song than he caught up in the deepest of despair over the plight of his Jewish brethren who remain given over to sin under God's wrath. His heart is broken. The tears flow, before he walks us through the sacred courts of divine election in Romans 9.

The world carries on singing her pop songs and hollywood harmonies that tell us we'll be ok if we're just true to ourselves, search for the hero within (etc) and claim all the good thinsg we're surely entitled too as evolution's greatest mutants. But the Christian, caught up in the love of God in Christ, raised to life, enjoying all the blessings and favour of God now groans. The Christian confesses the bewilderment of Qoheleth's cry of hebel! The Christian weeps at wrath observed all around in a world that charges headlong into sin, and experienced in the sufferings of life that come upon the good and the evil, and the sufferings given for the benefit of us knowing our suffering Saviour all the more. Lamentable circumstances that continue until the world is renewed on the great day of blood-bought jubilee that our laments long for. Until then, surely the Christian knows greater laments, but also greater joys.

2. Afflicted by God? A second brief tangent - on sovereignty, suffering and laments. In no way attempting to do justice to such a vast question in a couple of paragraphs. Bennetts writes: I am also finding it hard to believe that in any way God wishes hard times on us 'to make us appreciate what is good'. This may be a consequence, but I'm not sure that our pain and suffering emanates directly from the heart of God. (or as someone once said - God may let us walk off the edge of a cliff, but he wouldn't push us off himself).

I see where he's coming from and I appreciate his honesty and his response to comments, but I can't help wondering whether the comfort is actually better if God pushes us into troubles, in which we lament, trials in which we rejoice, sufferings which bring perseverance. Paul certainly reports great trials in his ministry and life. And that he sought to share in suffering. The suffering of our supreme example Jesus was no stranger to divinely-planned hardship. Share in his suffering and his resurrection! Whilst the idea of God letting us walk off the cliff sounds comforting isn't that careless of him? Isn't it better to know that he sends trial upon us for our ultimate growth in Christlikeness and that the good God still yet holds tight, loving us as he loves the Son whatever is thrown at us? Isn't that better than being allowed to stumble and slip and fall.

In an age where man has become expert in overcoming troubles and disease (except for wars, political assassins, fires in Kenya, MRSA, AIDS etc...) we might want to leap to God's defence and say that he wouldn't bring such trouble on us. Yet, under judgement the Lamenter confesses that her trouble has come from the LORD. He has afflicted her. That's not to say it's God's greatest joy to afflict his people - the LORD sent messengers again and again and again before his slow anger eventually judged them. And he was right to do that. The Christian's trials aren't punishment at all, for that is borne by Christ - but they are for our joy and perseverance (James 1:2-4). And they take us deeper into the heart of our God - into the sacred courts where he reveals the riches of his wisdom, his unsearchable judgements and untraceable paths (Romans 11:33). Suffering gives substance to our spirituality. I'm not sure I fully understand it. I know I don't, but when we can't lament, and when we can't share Qoheleth's cry of 'hebel' I think we're left with a superficial spirituality.

5 comments:

  1. Great post.

    Should we lament over our sin? Or is a lament something more specific, like 'the sorrow of experiencing judgment'?

    Relatedly, do we ever experience some kind of punishment for sin? I'm thinking of 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 type passages (though i admit to still being confused as to what's exactly going on there). Or the warnings to the churches in Revelation 2-3.

    Also, is there not a certain inevitable bad consequence to sinning which may be deemed punishment of a sort?

    In those sort of circumstances the lamentations of Israel would be of great use, part of the godly sorrow that leads to repentance?

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  2. "No sooner has he uttered this glorious song than he caught up in the deepest of despair over the plight of his Jewish brethren who remain given over to sin under God's wrath. His heart is broken."

    Yes - like Moses and like Jesus, Paul longed for the salvation of Israel and wept (metaphorically, at least) over Jerusalem. Sadly, it seems to me (as a Messianic Jew) that most British evangelicals have long since forgotten to do this. Dave - why not take a lead this year in (say) encouraging your CUs and those you work with to pray regularly and publicly for the salvation of the Jewish people?

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  3. James, yes - my desire is to see myself and students praying more for the salvation of all people groups.

    Pete, yeah - lots of thinking to do!

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  4. Oh how He loves us! And everyone else too!

    in Him,
    Devin Murphy

    Interested in a good christian community to help your church small group get tighter? check out www.livekite.com

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