by Tom Stuckey.
My latest book Covid-19: God’s Wake-Up Call was published in June 20211. In eighteen short chapters the book takes us from what has been called ‘the old normal’ through ‘abnormality’ into ‘the new normal’. At the centre of the book is a chapter on ‘lament’. It focuses on the liminal period between the old and the new.
I have written many times about an imminent ‘paradigm shift’2 and of the necessity of ‘repentance’ – metanoia. In my last article for Theology Everywhere I acknowledged that this particular word has struck the wrong chord for many Methodists.3
There have been over 150,000 deaths in Britain attributed to Covid-19. Such a statistic takes little account of the anguish of bereavement or the frustration of people. Political attempts to distract us from this harsh reality by trumpeting Britain’s success with the vaccine have now been derailed by news of ‘Party Times’ at No.10.
The lament of David over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1 gives voice to the pain of personal bereavement. In poetry intense and intimate David bares his soul. His grief is expressed publicly as the daughters of Israel are invited to ‘weep over Saul who clothed you with crimson’ (v.24). David’s lament is also ecological because he invites the mountains of Gilboa to share in his pain. ‘Let there be no dew or rain upon you’ (v.21). My new book shows that there is a dynamic relationship between our lament and the groans of the earth.
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he weeps over the city and speaks of its destruction (Lk.19.41-44). Lament is not only corporate, public and ecological, but also political. To politically ignore lament has devastating consequences for the health of a nation. In our contemporary culture where memory has little significance there must be lament ‘lest we forget’. In an act of remembrance by the new President of the US in 2021 on the eve of his inauguration, he acknowledged the thousands who had died from Covid-19. In doing this he was symbolically taking the American people back to their roots for, ‘only memory allows possibility’.4 As justice and righteousness give an ethical grounding for the stability of a nation, so lament and thanksgiving provide the emotional foundation for a healthy community.
The book of Lamentations contemplates the destruction of Jerusalem (BC 587). It gives voice to the magnitude of a nation’s pain. Part of the horror of human suffering is that it is unheard, forgotten or airbrushed out. Lamentations is a summons to ‘listen to the voices of the sufferers in the profusion and confusion of their pain, the bitterness of their protest, their shafts of self condemnation, their brief flashes of hope in the long night of despair, and their plaintive pleading with God just to look and see’.5
The author of Lamentations adds an additional ingredient to lament; namely, personal accountability. He is brutally honest in acknowledging that the people of Jerusalem have contributed to their own destruction. He even includes himself in this indictment, ‘I have rebelled against his word’. Human accountability and the necessity of repentance must not be swept under the carpet.
Anger is a further ingredient of lament. It is present beneath the surface of Lamentations (1.21, 1.7, 1.21, 2.14, 2.16) but finally erupts in chapter 3. ‘Pay them back for their deeds…Give them anguish of heart; your curse be on them! Pursue them in anger and destroy them’ (v.64f). An increasing number of people in Britain are now finding their anger: anger over the death of loved ones; anger at being prevented from being with them at the end; anger at lockdown; anger at those in Government who set the rules but fail to keep them.
There is also anger directed at God. ‘He has driven me and brought me into darkness without light: against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones’ (Lam.3.2-4).
In the New Testament there are 29 references to anger. The anger of Jesus (Mk.3.5), Stephen (Acts 7.51) and Paul (Gal.1.6) is fuelled by their concern for truth and justice. Most Christians today think anger to be a sin. The writer of Ephesians however tells us to ‘be angry but sin not’ (Eph.4.26). In today’s Church we do not ‘do anger’ but we do not ‘do justice’ either! A.V Campell tells us that in banishing anger we have produced a ‘gospel of niceness which often leads to pettiness’.6
Lament in the Bible is not a tombstone but a launch pad. It opens a door to the future. It is God’s motivating vehicle of transformation. Unless fully expressed theologically, practically and emotionally our anticipated new normal will become even more problematic than the old.
1. Tom Stuckey, Covid-19 God’s Wake-Up Call: Angry Bible Reflections in a Pandemic, 2021, Amazon.
2. Tom Stuckey, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: The Future of the Church in Britain, A Methodist Perspective, 2017, Church in the Market Place, (obtainable from Amazon).
3. Theology Everywhere, 15th June 2020.
4. Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination, Fortress, 1986, p.114.
5. Christopher Wright, The Message of Lamentations, 1VP, 2015, p.35.
6. A.V Campell, Gospel of Anger, SPCK, 1986, p.61.