On Pain and Lament

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I read some articles recently on the online edition of The Atlantic, including one about the late Jeffrey Epstein and another titled "When Women Are Accused of Complicity."

Recent television shows and news stories have raised a similar question: Can systems of oppression function without the involvement of women?

This article explores how women actually help predatory men to abuse other women or even children, as in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. After reading those two articles, I was so angry that I felt the need to change my thoughts by reading something different. Even though my eyes got tired, my mind would not stop. I decided to start working on this blog on lament and pain.

The lament part comes from the book Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. As many people who experience suffering from mental illnesses know, this affliction often causes extreme psychological and emotional anguish often leading to suicide. I’ve personally found my most meaningful Scripture text in Lamentations 3:19-33. This passage really speaks to me, especially Lam. 3:19-21:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope.

The author of the book on lament, Soong-Chan Rah, writes that the North American Church has forgotten how to lament, and as a result, has also forgotten about suffering and injustice, particularly how it feels when you’re on the receiving end of those realities. He says it’s the difference between the haves and the have-nots. The wealthy and powerful celebrate whereas the poor, oppressed, and suffering lament because they know how precarious their lives are. 

Reading this after having read about women and children who have been abused sexually by the likes of Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, and of what we hear about illegal immigrants being arrested by ICE agents who don’t bother about those immigrants' children not having anyone to pick them up after school, really drives home the need to lament the injustice and inhumanity being carried out here. The children of those immigrants are innocent of what their parents chose to do, yet they are being forced to pay for it by finding themselves abandoned, because their parents were taken away while they were at school.

Jeremiah spoke of hope, but after voicing his pain and grief. If we want to speak of hope to people who are grieving, we cannot gloss over that grief, because, if we do, we are telling them that their pain does not matter to us. That it is not real or justified. This is not a message that followers of Christ should be sending to those in pain. Christ came and suffered the most excruciating form of execution known to humanity, because of all the pain and suffering inflicted by the descendants of Adam and Eve, on fellow humans and on animals to this day.  So, yes, I believe that we need to relearn how to lament. Not only that but also to fight for justice for victims of oppression.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone. (Lam. 3:27-33, NIV)

How oppressive is that! Doesn’t sound too comforting, does it?  Maybe that‘s why I can relate to it so much. God does show compassion to those who are suffering, and they really need it in a world that offers none.

As I read further into the book, it struck me that Lamentations uses a feminine voice to express its grief and pain, the voice of Jerusalem devastated by the Babylonian army in 586 B .C. We can safely assert, knowing the behavior of male soldiers in such circumstances, that many women were raped and that children were killed violently, if they weren’t raped too. This brings me back to the beginning of my blog about how some women enabled predatory men to sexually abuse women and girls—NOT underage women, which is nonsense—but girls. Children.

May God help us to turn toward our pain, so that we can face the injustice toward and pain of others too. 

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Michele, thank you for this. The need to first acknowledge the pain and grief before offering the hope is so important and I needed the reminder. Thanks again.