Israel always lamented their national pain in the context of hope. Christians often sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” little aware that the phrase prompting that old, rich hymn is from the heart of the Book of Lamentations. Jeremiah writes, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam.3:23-24). These verses are immersed in pain, saturated with agonizing sorrow over the bloody destruction of Jerusalem. The horrific cries of the devastating entry into the Babylonian captivity pierce our ears. Those who were once slaves of Egypt are now slaves of Babylon. Lament, O people.
Yet, a ray of hope. A glimmer of light even in the suffocating darkness…”great love…compassion…faithfulness.”
Let’s see how the prophet Habakkuk works this out in his blazingly beautiful Psalm (chapter 3). First, ponder these descriptions: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls…”
What? This is a reporter’s view of a battlefield. All that is productive and beautiful and life-sustaining is obliterated by war. The Babylonian “locusts” have decimated the land. Habakkuk sees a Judean scorched earth. Yet, Habakkuk’s next words are confounding, way out of context to what he just described, seemingly crazy: “…yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
America does not know how to lament. We’ve never lamented the Civil War (and the repercussions of that neglect are with us to this day). We’ve not lamented the Viet Nam tragedy. The prevailing American ethos flees from pain and ignores devastation. Did we have a national soul-searching after 9/11? No, we used the Lamech Scenario for a response:
Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
The USAmerican Evangelical Church, with its alliance with the powers that be, does not know how to lament. We cheerlead violence in the name of democracy. “Nuke ‘em in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
Of course, individuals lament and so do families. But cities, states, the nation? We are an avenging people, not a lamenting people. The State of Israel traded its belief in God for belief in the Uzi. America traded its belief in God for belief in the dollar. Look where that’s got us. Lament, O people.
I think we can do away with our plastic, corner-drugstore-Jesus-happiness and use a little more Habakkuk in our lives. Lament or Lamech?
“Man of sorrows, what a name for the Son of Man who came…” What?!