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The world seems again in painful contractions, whether reflected in literal earthquakes or in the metaphoric seismic shifts of tectonic plates. People huddle around graves next to the rubble of what used to be their cathedral and scramble across the borders of what used to be their host nation. The world is groaning, and so numerous sighs and laments rise up. As suffering is an integral part of life, so are laments a crucial part of this faith journey.

A lamentation was even nominated for Best British Single at the recent Brit Awards. The song You've got the Love, originally recorded in 1986, was covered most recently by Florence And The Machine.
Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air
Sometimes I feel like saying "Lord I just don't care"
And things go wrong no matter what I do

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough
Now and then it seems that life is just too much
But you've got the love I need to see me through

Laments are dialogues with God, filled with questions, protests, and even anger. They are marked by an unwillingness to settle for the status quo. Life is wrong and God seems to have forgotten about it. On the other hand, laments also recount God’s faithfulness throughout history, and so remind us of the kind of God we are praying to. Gradually, the expectation builds again that He indeed ‘has got the love to see us through’.

In his day, Paul cleverly resonated with the philosophical wisdom of the age. The Stoics of antiquity knew suffering produced perseverance, which in turn produced character. Paul echoes their insight but crowns the sequence with a Christian theme: suffering ultimately produces hope, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
The assurance of hope is unknown in philosophy. The goddess Fortuna, who personified the idea of the unpredictable and unexplained, became the most important deity of the Hellenistic era. She dealt mortals unexpected blows in life and overturned seemingly tranquil lives without reason. At best, one would endure - stoically.
In contrast, God’s faithfulness solidly anchored the believers amidst hardships. While affliction and the bitter experience of life would cause the soul to bow down, believers call the Lord’s great love to mind. They are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  His enduring faithfulness gives them ‘staying power’ amidst life’s turmoil.
No wonder that when Paul reflects on the cosmic groaning, he places the Church in a central role. A suffering and dysfunctional world is standing on tiptoes, looking for the revelation of the children of God. In them the new creation has begun (Romans 8:19-23). The aching visionaries in and for the sake of the world have a glimpse of God’s new day.
Whether it is in the turmoil overseas or the budget cuts at home that seem to redefine the societal landscape, the people of God are present where the sufferings of life overflow so that the comfort of God may also overflow. We identify with the world’s wounds in the good hope that a new day is coming when all tears will be wiped away. Such laments invite God’s kingdom to come.

Marijke Hoek, Coordinator Forum for Change  (Evangelical Alliance)


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