02 November 2023, The Tablet

Lament as stewardship: how grief restores our partnership with God

Just as God’s heart is broken by injustice, as his image-bearers, we should also allow ourselves to be deeply moved and avoid hardening our hearts.

Lament as stewardship: how grief restores our partnership with God

The lamentations of Jeremiah depicted in an 1860 wood by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld.
Old Book Images / Alamy

As the horrific events in the Middle East and their impact around the world continue to dominate our thoughts, I’d like to consider the idea of lament and how we can transform our grief about the state of the world into good stewardship as we partner with God in his redeeming work.  

Lament in the Bible is described by Mark Vroegop as the act of turning to God, complaining to God, asking for his intervention, even his explanation, and then trusting him.  

In the beginning, when God created everything, Genesis 2:15 says: “The Lord God put man in the garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it.” God didn’t do this because he thought we humans could improve on his handiwork – he’d already called it “good” (which translates to infinitely perfect by our own standards). 

It’s also not because God no longer wanted any responsibility and abandoned it to us. It’s more about his fundamental intentions for our relationship with him – that is, since we are made in his image, we are creative beings too, and he wants to actively partner with us in shaping his world. 

With the Fall came the disintegration of our relationships, with God, each other, ourselves, and the rest of creation, and so we lost sight of this original purpose. We can plainly see the consequences of that today, perhaps more so than ever.

Think of Matthew 24: “You will soon hear about wars and threats of wars… Nations and kingdoms will go to war against each other. People will starve to death, and in some places there will be earthquakes.” These verses sound just like today’s news headlines, about as far as you can get from the Garden of Eden.

Jesus said that these are some of the signs pointing towards his coming return. As those who follow him, he tells us not to be alarmed, but that doesn’t mean that we shrug our shoulders. Instead we should grieve at the brokenness of the world, and we should take action to address this brokenness. 

Sometimes, we can forget that salvation means so much more than the promise of eternal life for us as individuals. It is the ongoing restoration of the relationships between us, God, and the rest of creation. It returns us to our original purpose as God’s active partners in the world, which is part of both our worship and our witness.

Lament is a key part of how we respond. Just as God’s heart is broken by injustice, as his image-bearers, we should also allow ourselves to be deeply moved and avoid hardening our hearts. Romans 8:22 talks about how “all creation is still groaning and in pain, like a woman about to give birth.” As with birth, the coming joy of new life doesn’t lessen the pain of the present, and fully acknowledging that is important.

Sometimes when things are overwhelming, all we can do is pray, and even then, we don’t always have the words to express the magnitude and depth of the suffering we are witnessing. In a recent article for Time magazine, the former Bishop of Durham N T Wright describes how we are “called to share in that groaning,” and reminds us that the prayers of those who pray in the Spirit, “even when—precisely when!—they don’t even know what to pray for, will thereby be formed, shaped, into the Jesus-pattern, the pattern of the cross, sharing the pain of the world so that the world may be redeemed.”

This is why we can’t separate out faith and politics. Lamenting injustice in prayer is a form of stewardship, it is us authentically crying out at the tragedies in our fallen world, it’s us trusting God – knowing that he hears our lament, literally feels our pain and ultimately has the answers. 

It’s most powerful when we do this in community.  We can look suffering squarely in the eye and not flinch, not bury our heads in the sand in despair, and absolutely not give up on the goodness of God. The Bible says that when two or three believers gather in Jesus’ name, he is there among them – himself interceding on behalf of humanity, another example of how we partner together in God’s redeeming work. 

This lament in prayer also spurs us to act. Only with the hope of Jesus’ return can we acknowledge the brokenness of the world in prayer, then set out in full knowledge of our inadequacy to do some good. To actively set some wrongs right, in whatever small ways we can, with whatever political influence or authority we have been given.

What do you think?


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