I woke up Sunday morning and, like many of you, saw the terrible news coming out of Orlando. In most cases like this, I choose a social media fast since the Internet can quickly become a platform for vitriolic shaming and blaming. But Sunday was different, at least among many of the progressive Christians I follow, who turned Twitter into a public platform for lament. “Lord, have mercy,” “How long, O Lord?” and “Can’t stop crying” posts filled my timeline. And in a small way, it was comforting.
Christians across the world were engaging in the ancient, biblical task of lamentation: Israel moaning in Egypt, Rachel weeping for her children, Job and his potsherds, or the cry of the forsaken Jesus gathering all the world’s anguish into that hallowed moment when unconstrained grief was shouted up to God, the one God who actually listens. In fact, one third of the Psalms are laments, modeling how we are to worship and pray in the midst of loss. The biblical narrative is filled with stories of God’s people speaking and being answered, crying and being heard. And while a few ideologues wanted to jump directly into conversations about guns, militant Islam, and LGBTQ issues; the more appropriate response to this senseless tragedy was lament.
Lament is the visceral announcement that things are not right; it is refusing to be silent in the midst of evil. Lament is the refusal to let God off the hook. Lament is going all the way down to the depths of human depravity. Lament means evoking cries that demand answers. It means summoning God and expecting Him to act. It is prayer in the midst of pain. The very loss of lamentation ensures that victims remain voiceless and the status quo goes unchallenged.
So we lament. We lament the violent death of 49 divine image bearers; brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and companions. We lament a Congress that has prostituted itself to the NRA. We lament Christians who care more about their guns than their fellow man. We lament a world violently divided between Christians and Muslims, and the lack of imagination that will lead to retributive violence. We lament that the American church is one of the most unsafe places for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We lament that we’ve placed politics and power ahead of people. We lament the bloody plank in our own eye.
What then is an appropriate response to Orlando? Maybe the first step is to recognize our own complicity in the dehumanization of LGBTQ persons and lament the creation of a Christian sub-culture that demonizes rather than welcomes those with whom one might disagree.
So in your own lamenting, look with tear-stained eyes into the darkness to see how vast, how deep, and how cruel is evil, and lament that that evil lives inside us all. And like Rachel, refuse to be comforted.
See the world’s pain.
See your own pain.
Sit in sackcloth and shower yourself with dust, remembering from which we come and to which we will return. But lament with hope.
Lament with the hopeful expectation that the same God who heard Israel’s wailing in Egypt and Jesus’ cries from the cross is the very same loving father who is listening still, and will one day deliver us from all this pain, all this anguish, and all these tears.