God hears our cries

In my theological studies, I wrote a major paper on communal lament, where people in the Scriptures cry out to God in experiences of despair, loneliness, and abandonment. Such cries are frequent in the Psalms and certainly in sections of the book of Job. In the passage from Job 23; 1-9. 16-17 we hear the story of Job’s complaint and abandonment; of seeking God, yet God seems nowhere to be found. Though the story of Job is a tale of an individual, over the years it has spoken to many people’s situations and even communities who suffer unjustly, where God seems distant and remote rather than present alongside them.

In crisis times when depths of feelings arise and a sense of powerlessness may increase, the way of lament often proclaims hope in God or at least the desire to find God and renewed relationship amidst the existential recognition of feeling God forsaken.

There is something powerful about speaking out in a quiet voice, or a loud voice to name your need to God and to others in the community of God’s people. By giving voice to God and each other, we can discover the truths of our common humanity and live though experiences of disorientation towards some reorientation. Put simply we reach out towards a new understanding to find meaning and hope.

Sometimes the act of complaining even to God is saying something deeper, we are longing for something to be different. Sometimes the complaining of a righteous person is a way of prayer which includes a lament: How long Lord must this go on? When will the people be treated justly?

One thing that seems important is honesty before God that does not seek to diminish others. Elie Wiesel, a Jewish holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate spoke of his experience of the holocaust after moving from a vow of silence and said, “speaking of this suffering is less a betrayal of the dead than remaining silent about it.” (Cited by Johannes Von Bavel “The meaninglessness of suffering and attempts at interpretation,” In Jan Lambrecht and Raymond F. Collins, God and human suffering. Louvains Peeters Pr., 1990, p. 122).

In the gospel passage from Mark 10: 17-31 there is another honest cry to God as the rich young man asks Jesus, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ One imagines there is an agenda here, will Jesus affirm me in how good and successful I have been in life? Yet instead, there is a challenge given, one thing that might help you and your situation is to be generous to give away your possessions. We are told that this young man went away shocked and grieving.

I have heard many slants to this story, yet one I like to ponder is that this is a teaching story that only pictures a moment in life and each of us who hears this story, might imagine if this is the end? or the beginning of a new story? What might be possible, as the next story in Mark 10: 27 suggests, where ‘for God all things are possible’.

Another important aspect in this story is Mark 10: verse 21 where ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’. What might such a gaze be like? that sees someone’s potential and from that place invites another way to live.

The two stories paint ‘the way of suffering and lament’ linked with ‘the way of trust’ and listening for God.

In our lives we might face challenges that can affront us at a deeper level. In these places we might find comfort in the fact that times of suffering can increase our sensitivity and make us more sensitive to the pain in the world, it can even bring forth a greater love for all.

Today’s readings invite us to go deeper and find that God also suffers. In the God-forsaken cry of Christ from the cross in Matthew 27: 46 we hear the echo of Psalm 22:1 where a human being laments in agony and despair and at the same time trusts that God will hear his cry.

So may our faith help us to draw from this wisdom that nothing is lost forever, God is to be trusted and love will come again. Out of life’s crises can come new meaning and the invitation of the great commandment to love God, love self and love others as Jesus loved us.

Amen.

Rev Lynette Dungan