Intimacy and Lament
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
As I walk down the road in the valley of the city in which I live, I see luxury cars parked outside a gated house, usually meaning there is prostitution or trafficking occurring. As I walk through the neighborhood that we work in, I hear someone speak the reality that while not every woman and girl is involved in prostitution, every single one will consider it as an option for themselves because of the poverty they experience and the lack of options many of them navigate.
We hear the children speak of experiences of homelessness, violence in their homes, addiction, death, sickness and racism against them because they are Roma. When we speak of intimacy, in relation to these realities, we respond based upon how we think of God’s involvement in these realities.
I take my cue from Psalm 22 — the Psalm that was on the lips of Jesus as he suffered on the cross. In fact, “No other Psalm goes so deep in the depths of despair and also to the heights of praise, (Brown, 2010).”
Jesus “takes up the righteous cry of the sufferer, that he laments in every way as we do. He enters into the Pit, he suffers the same persecution from enemies, the same physical distress, the same apparent silence and absence of God that afflicts the psalmist in Psalm 22, (Shipps, 2011).”
Famously, Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22 knowing that the Jewish audience surrounding him would immediately know the context and following words of that passage. This Psalm is a lament of an individual, and it begins with a call to a God who seems to be silent in the face of suffering. The speaker then shifts his focus from being abandoned to remembering God’s past faithfulness. He proclaims that God is the God of Israel who has come through for his people and delivered them.
This Psalm makes it clear that we serve a God who understands suffering and is in the midst of suffering. However, it also gives us a model of mature faith in the midst of suffering. The speaker does not keep his lament to himself, nor does he simply default to believing that he needs more faith.
Instead, he stands his ground and asks God why he is absent. This is the power of lament; it requires trust in God and knowledge of his character. In the midst of this suffering, we see that the speaker reminds us of God’s actions in the past. We look toward the past in our collective community and in our collective memory to understand who God is in the present situation, especially when it seems to be empty His presence.
In the midst of lament, we do not despair. We remember the character of the God we serve. This Psalm reminds us that we serve a God who brought His people out of Egypt. He provides food for those that don’t have it, and he is present in suffering. The principle of lament calls us to be active in the midst of suffering.
We are called as the people of God to act by entering into this suffering. We are called to stand for justice and to stand on the side of those who are marginalized and attacked.
If we believe that God has been faithfully present in the past, we can lament the present when it seems that He is absent. We can stand our ground and ask that He intervene, because He has proven Himself to be a God who intervenes.
We have the freedom to ask these things of God. When this practice of lament can happen freely, so can hope for the future. In this practice, we can play a role in revealing the kingdom of God that is coming and that is here now.
On the cross, Jesus spoke these poetic, Psalmic lines of deep lament and anguish, but in doing so, also reminded his hearers that God the Father is present in suffering and in lament. In these cries, Jesus demonstrated that he intimately understands suffering. Like Jesus, we too can intimately call out in brokenness because we are free to cry out to the God who intervenes on behalf of the forgotten.
Mikayla Greenwell is the short-term teams coordinator for Word Made Flesh Romania. She first encountered Word Made Flesh while attending George Fox University through participating in 3-week discovery teams, studying abroad with WMF-Romania for a semester, and returning to lead 3-week discovery teams. After graduating from George Fox University, Mikayla moved to Romania as WMF staff in November 2016. Alongside her WMF work, Mikayla attends Fuller Theological Seminary studying in the Masters of Divinity program. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, being with people, and watching Jimmy Fallon.
Connect with Mikayla: firstname.lastname@example.org