We don’t need to look far to see that we live in a broken and hurting world. A world that needs hope.
“That was the moment where I felt my heart cleave into two pieces. I felt absolutely distraught.”
This quote is from a young Australian woman living overseas when she heard the impacts of the Australian bushfires. In a bleak environmental landscape across the world, with ravaging bushfires, devastating drought and species extinction, many feel hopeless. “Our environment is transforming rapidly, and many of us are experiencing a sense of profound loss.”
Our society has coined the terms ecological grief and eco-anxiety. So what might be an appropriate and helpful response not only to the environmental damage but to eco-anxiety and ecological grief? We are called to love the world – but what does that look like? How do we love one another well? In a world of plastic pollution, overfishing, deforestation, devastating bushfires and floods do we have a message of hope? Yes! And we find it in a most unexpected place. We find hope as we journey with God into the depths of our grief and pain and brokenness. True, biblical hope is born in that place and enables us to go love the world. How? Because through lament we discover just how deeply God loves the world.
“Through lament we discover just how deeply God loves the world.”
On Sunday 23 January 2011, I left church feeling angry. Only a week before, immediately after the Brisbane floodwaters had subsided, church had been a safe, thoughtful and open place to grieve. We felt supported and loved.
But today just one week later it felt like it was back to business as usual. It was the Pastor’s statement that distressed me most. He said, “We don’t understand why God allows such devastating events and we don’t need to understand because Jesus is returning to put an end to such suffering.”
What he said was true, but it wasn’t the complete truth. The implication was ‘don’t ask questions, just trust God’. That day I experienced a deep discomfort with what seemed too simplistic a response in a deeply personal and significant natural disaster.
We never lost confidence in God’s goodness and grace – we experienced that through countless acts of kindness which continued for months. However, it seemed on that Sunday 23 January 2011 that to walk straight into fixing everything up and not sitting with hard questions was inappropriate. And so, it was in the weeks and months that followed that I re-discovered lament. I had been there before, perhaps that helped me.
I sat with the pain and loss due to the flood.
I sat with the disappointment and anger in the response to the flood.
And mostly the absence of questions.
It was a process of pouring out questions, disappointments and sadness to God. Twelve months later, a neighbour said to me “It was so traumatic, wasn’t it”. I was stuck. I didn’t want to invalidate their experience, but I couldn’t say it wasn’t traumatic for me. It was exhausting, sad and disruptive and raised many questions, but looking back my experience had been rich. There had been treasure in the midst of it all. The flourishing of community, the nurturing of bonds of friendship, the time living with family, the humbling experience of being on the receiving end of so much generosity. I wonder would all of that happened if I hadn’t embraced lament?
As individuals we each respond to pain differently. However we respond, these emotions are valid. As a young Christian I didn’t validate feelings. My understanding was that my beliefs, what I thought, was most important and feelings could not be trusted. I have come to understand that feelings reveal important information. Of course, feelings unchecked can lead to unproductive and harmful actions however ignoring feelings can be equally destructive. And if we engage in the reality of how God’s creation is being destroyed and how that affects people, we will be engulfed by mixtures of fear, anger, sadness and guilt.
There are three important aspects to this.
- We worship a God of truth. As Augustine said, all truth is God’s truth and therefore it is incumbent upon us to earnestly take note of scientific research and not ignore it. These are tools God has given us.
- We are God’s handiwork, God made us as emotional beings, with the capacity to feel pain, anger, fear and sadness and these are good gifts.
- We are made in God’s image and God also exhibits these sorts of feelings.
In Genesis 6:6 God sees the pervasive wickedness on earth and was sorry that he had made humankind … and it grieved him to his heart. In Luke 19:41 Jesus wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday because God’s chosen people did not recognise him as God’s Son, and they would reap the consequences of that. In both of cases the Father and the Son grieve over humanity’s rebellion and its consequences. The Holy Spirit also grieves, and I have found Romans ch 8 very helpful here. Paul explains in verse 19 that Creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed.
In this passage, Paul begins outlining the groaning of the world; but goes on to describe the groaning of the Church and finally the groaning of the Spirit. And so “At the very moment when we discover that we ourselves are ‘groaning’ and don’t know what to say or do, at that same moment we find that God himself, God the Holy Spirit, is ‘groaning’ as well…” Beginning with Abraham, scripture provides many examples of people expressing their agony, and questioning God.
True lament is a pathway to
- renewed awe of God and recognition of his sovereignty,
- a deeper respect for non-human creation and our interrelatedness to it
- and finally, peace and comfort in the circumstances (Psalm 73).
Lament is a journey. It is not easy. It involves embracing pain rather than running away from it. However it also changes us, and if we allow him to, God will use it to transform us so we can go love the world. Lament is the place where hope is born. “True hope is not a flimsy, fluffy thing. No, true hope, Biblical hope, sees it all. It sees the bad, the hard, the pain. It sees the depths and the darkness. It sees the world’s sin and my own sin. And it keeps on seeing… all the way to Christ. In the end, deep hope must be securely grounded in the character and love of God.”
I am learning that it is good to lament.
I lament because I care.
I care because he cares.
And that care translates into transformation and a deep, unshakable longing for His Kingdom.
There is hope.
National Director Christine Gobius and Creation Care Advocate Katherine Shields share their reflections on lament, love and hope.
This blog is adapted from their presentation Heartache and Hope: The transforming power of grief in an age of eco-anxiety, delivered at COSAC 2020.
 WRIGHT, Tom. God and the Pandemic (Kindle Locations 606-616). SPCK. Kindle Edition