Sometimes we pray and expect God to answer our prayers. Sometimes we pray and hope God will hear us. Sometimes we don’t even know how to pray.
Fifty people died in a shooting rampage in Orlando early yesterday morning. The twenty-year-old son of Pastor Bill Greiner, the senior pastor of our sister church Eagle Ridge Church of God in Midland, died in a car collision last week, early on Sunday morning. And ten years ago last week, I wrote a blog post in which I tried to process the shooting deaths of seven people across the alley from our apartment in Indianapolis, which came just a month after the deaths of five people from our college in another auto collision.
How do we make sense of the tragedies in our lives? Where is God in all this mess?
I think we should be careful about the pacing of our experiences of grief. Our culture is so focused on immediate results, immediate information, and immediate processing. We value soundbites and tweets and free two-day shipping much more than the long, slow process of questions and growth and healing. Sometimes we need to be encouraged to slow down and be human.
A good friend of mine, Pastor Steve Wimmer from Alma First Church of God, reminded us of this truth last Friday when he officiated Quinten Greiner’s funeral service. He spoke about the importance of the lament, a form of prayer in which we simply cry out to God because of our grief and sorrow. When we lament, we don’t force God to give us answers or to fix the problems we are facing. We just lay out for him the reality of our pain.
There is good biblical precedent for this style of prayer. In fact, one whole book of the Old Testament is devoted entirely to a series of laments. That book is appropriately called Lamentations, and through five chapters it describes the Israelites’ pain at losing their homeland, their capital city Jerusalem, and their temple when the Babylonian exile took place in 586 B.C. The first four of these chapters are acrostic poems, in which the first letter of each verse (or of the verses in each group of verses, in the case of chapter 3) starts with the next letter of the alphabet.
Steve taught us a few very simple biblical laments: “How long, O Lord?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord.” It’s ok to grieve. God can handle it – and, in fact, God grieves with us.
Join me in my lament today. I grieve that…
- Another mass shooting – another massive loss of life – has taken place in our nation.
- Bodies of dozens of loved ones will be identified and buried throughout this week.
- Conversations are already moving toward scoring political points.
- Darkness filled the heart of the man who pulled the trigger in Orlando.
- Every time a mass shooting happens, more of us become numb to the news.
- Faith leaders often resort to making moral judgments at times like these.
- God’s good creation has been marred yet again by fallen humanity.
- Hatred can motivate someone to do something so unspeakable.
- Individuals – real people – have lost friends, companions, family members.
- Justice is so often pursued by making others hurt like we hurt.
- Killing people with assault rifles is so easy, so accessible, so possible.
- Lesbian and gay people around the country will now fear for their safety even at a nightclub.
- Most of us will forget the impact of this event in a few weeks.
- Nothing ever seems to change.
- Objective news reports tend to make objects out of victims and survivors.
- Presidential hopefuls make these events into free advertisements for their platforms.
- Questions of “why” will never be answered satisfactorily for those who lost loved ones in Orlando.
- Reactions from Christians would be so different if it were a Christian coffee house instead of a gay nightclub.
- Safety and security for everyday people are not basic assumptions of our society.
- This will not be the last time we grieve a mass shooting like this one.
- Understanding how to love and support those who are hurting often takes a back seat to proving your point.
- Vehement calls for assault rifle bans have gone completely unanswered.
- Weapons for killing dozens – and even thousands and millions – are widespread in our country. (We trivialize the latter by using the euphemism “nuclear codes.”)
- Xenophobia often overrides our call to love our neighbors.
- Yesterday seemed like such a good day until this happened.
- Zeroing in on the root issues behind this tragedy only seems to divide people, not unite them for action.
How long, O Lord? Out of the depths we cry to you, Lord. Jesus, come and sit with us as we lament for a while. Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy – especially on those who have to say goodbye without ever having had a chance to say goodbye.