Learning to Lament


Life is full of the unexplainable, the undesirable, and the regrettable. We don't even need to turn on the news and listen to all the unfortunate things going on in this world. All we need to do is look at our own lives to discover that there are things that we don’t like to deal with and things we believe no one should ever have to go through.

Sadly, some things have become so common to us that we have accepted them as a part of life. Death, in general, is not something to which we object. We have accepted that life on earth will reach an inevitable end. No one will live forever, and although it’s painful and we grieve when people pass away, if they have lived long and good lives, we are able to celebrate and say goodbye.

But that’s not to say that death is a good thing. I’m sure if we all had the choice to stay young and healthy, we might choose to live at least a little bit longer. Most of us don’t want to leave our families and would love to see future generations grow up. Death is a certainty which can, in some situations, be an acceptable ending to a life well lived. It's the best of a bad reality of life.

But there are also those cases that we might describe as the worst of a bad reality of life. These situations we call unfair because they defy our accepted understanding of what a good ending to life might be. They defy the limits of what people should be forced to endure. We struggle to make sense of them and end up having no possible good explanation for their occurrence.

Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and by extension all of Canada, experienced one of these events last Friday. A bus carrying 29 people, most of them the players of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, collided with a semi-truck on the highway. So far, sixteen people have died with many still in hospital. Those who passed away include players, coaches, an athletic therapist, two media personnel and the bus driver.

I’ve learned a lot from listening and following this story. First of all, it’s given me a deep appreciation for community, working together, and the generosity of people. It’s given me hope to see how many people care and are willing to do something to show their support. But most of all, I’ve been impressed with the strength of the Broncos and their families, their willingness to be open and speak about their loss and pain, and the ways Humboldt has come together as a family.

But all of the good things that I have seen emerge from this situation do not change the fact that it is a tragedy. This was the essence of the type of situation that defies our understanding of a good ending. First of all, this was an accident, which by definition, was unfortunate and unnecessary. If the events leading up to this could have been changed, even slightly, it may have never happened.

Second, these were young people in the prime of their lives. There is nothing they did to deserve this. Families lost their children and children lost their parents. They had their whole futures ahead of them.

How do we deal with these kinds of situations? How do we go about dealing with questions of “why?” and “what if?” For people of faith, how do we reconcile the things we see and experience with our trust in a God who is supposed to be all-powerful and in control of everything? It’s often in these times that our faith God waivers. I understand, because it happens with me too.

I believe the first thing to realize that there are no easy answers. In fact, we may never understand the reasons for tragedies. This seemed to be the common message this week from the families, community, as well as the ministers involved in the memorial service. There is no satisfactory answer that we can give; sometimes we do more harm by trying to fabricate an explanation, even one from theology.

The second thing is to realize that our questions about these situations are absolutely valid. Sometimes Christians get the message that we need to simply trust, no questions asked. We need to believe that God had it all planned and we need to just praise Him in all situations. But that isn’t a biblical principle. What we find in the Bible is a that when things don’t make sense, people call and cry out to God. We know this practice as lament.

Lament is the tool given to us to confront the suffering and evil in this world. In lament, we cry out to God, not being afraid to ask difficult questions. This cry, seen all over scripture, is a call for God to do something. In a sense, we are given licence to scream, letting God know how we really feel. We shouldn’t be afraid or think that God doesn’t know or can’t handle the hurt and pain we are going through. Instead, we should feel confident in approaching God with exactly what is on our hearts, as individuals and as communities.

This is the unique thing about the God of the Bible. In the stories of Abraham and Job, for example, we find a God who not only allows this kind of dialogue, but welcomes it. God really wants to hear from us. He doesn’t expect simple, blind, question-less faith. To live in relationship with God is to understand that God considers us important enough to listen to our cry. When we decide to engage with Him, we grow deeper in our relationship with, and understanding of, God.

As churches, we need to make room for lament in our services and faith, especially when we are hit with tragedies in our communities. The Psalms provide ample opportunity to explore lament if we don’t know where to start. Psalms, like Psalm 44, give us a taste of the raw emotion the Israelites had in times of trial. And so for me, not really knowing what to do or say about the Humboldt Broncos tragedy, I simply join in the tradition of lament, acknowledging the pain and loss, struggling to make sense of it all, and calling on God to work.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.
                    - Psalm 44:23-26