Questioning God’s character and promises? Welcome to the Bible!
Most readers of the Bible spend little time in the book of Lamentations, a short book of five poems composed by an anonymous Hebrew poet, reflecting on the fall of Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE. The poet is left behind after the Babylonians have laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and carried the king and many elites into exile. This was the greatest tragedy to befall the people of Israel to that point in history. Surrounded by destruction and loss, the poet is overcome.
Lament is a genre in which protest is loudly and publicly voiced—“Both people and the Divine will hear what I have to say!” It is a way of processing anger, confusion, and grief. Lament openly questions God’s character and God’s promises. Lament gives attention and dignity to human suffering.
The five poems of Lamentations move from shock to despair, from grief to resignation. There is a glimmer of hope in the middle of the book before the poet sinks into despondency. It concludes with a desperate plea and finally, resignation, “Restore us to yourself, Lord … unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.” The end.
The final poem ends in trepidation because the poet is in the middle of life, just like we are.
Next week California is scheduled to fully reopen, lifting the state mask mandate and returning to “normal,” but can we return? The United States has exceeded 600,000 deaths from Covid-19; the world is nearing 3,750,000 deaths. And those are only the confirmed cases! While I am grateful to be fully vaccinated, our nation is not on track to reach herd immunity and much of the world is reeling in a third wave. If we can’t reach worldwide herd immunity, this virus will continue to plague humanity, mutate, and in time, may overcome our vaccines. Yet, here we find ourselves, a nation caught up in identity politics, awash in disinformation, and far too many rejecting the gift of a vaccine.
How long, O Lord? Must we live with this virus forever?
Like the author of Lamentations, we find ourselves in the middle of the story, grieving the overwhelming loss of life with no assurance that normality is on the horizon. So, join me in lament—openly grieving and protesting the pain and loss of the last year and a half. Join me in giving dignity to the suffering of humanity. And join me in rolling up your sleeve, getting vaccinated, and getting to work to build a new and better normal.
Rev. Robby Olson is a Presbyterian pastor in Watsonville.