Things are not as they should be. That’s more than just how those of us who are trying to follow Jesus understand the world.
It’s something most of us see and experience every day.
That’s unfortunately obvious again this morning as we try to make sense of the senseless violence in Syria. Friends who have been to South Sudan are heartbroken over the events in that country as well. Our own city is still reeling over another shooting in a part of town that’s already suffered too much.
Each morning, it seems, brings another burst of darkness, another event that overwhelms our senses. We can’t go a day without wondering how the gap between the ways things are and the way they should be will ever shrink.
It isn’t just the news and it isn’t just on TV. We’ve felt the pain in the deterioration of relationships that leaves us asking what happened. We’ve felt stuck in our work and buried in the darkness of depression. We’ve walked under a burden that is so heavy and been filled with so much pain that we would give anything to find a load that is easy and a burden that is light.
It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself flipping through the Bible I read in college. It was then when I started actually reading the Bible seriously, if not always intelligently. This particular Bible is beaten up, its corners are rounded, and it is falling apart. It has seen better days.
One of the sections that is the most marked up in that Bible is a small book, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Ezekiel – the book of Lamentations.
I’m not exactly sure how I found it, but in the midst of hurt and struggles I was dealing with at the time I found in those pages what I desperately needed.
It was there I discovered I wasn’t the first one to feel like things were falling apart. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to experience how plans could be foiled. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to get knocked down without much of an idea of how to get back up. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to convince myself I was all alone facing a world that wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
As I opened my Bible I read the prayers of people who were angry with God. I paid attention to people trying to hold it all together while everything else was trying to pull them apart. I listened to the suffering of families in a world that was a long way from Eden. Mostly, I studied the prayers of people who were hoping and willing God to act.
At the heart of Lamentations is the belief that even in the dark places God is still there. The people crying out to God put their hope in the promise that even in their suffering God still remembered them. They still prayed because they still trusted in a God who would act on their behalf.
The language is jarring and the images stretch us. And yet, Lamentations 3 reveals the heart of the Gospel and the core of faith and trust:
“So I say, God is my glory and all that I had hoped for from the Lord…But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end.”
We have a hard time praying prayers of lament. We don’t want to bother God with our problems. We feel guilty complaining to God that things aren’t perfect when we are all too aware of our own imperfections. We would rather sing with joy than deal with our pain.
But what Lamentations teaches us about prayer, and really about God, is that just because things aren’t the way they should be doesn’t mean they’ll always be that way. They, and we, become different when we remember that even in the midst of darkness and heartbreak God hasn’t abandoned us. We offer to God our pain that comes from the way the world is and our dreams for how the world might one day be because we have come to believe that the most powerful force in the world isn’t a nation with an army or a corporation that’s too big to fail but the God who has promised to never abandon us regardless of the cost.
We remember that especially this week. As we get ready to walk the lonesome road with Jesus, we know we are on the path to night and betrayal, long days of darkness where you will have to strain to glimpse even a shadow of light.
It is true that the world isn’t how it should be. What keeps us walking is that we know it won’t always be this way.
Note: This is the third post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.
Prayers For the Path: