Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday's Therapy - A Call to Lament - Part Four ~Angie and Tommy Prince with ~Nicholas Wolterstorff - How did the Need for the 'Cry of Lament' Get So Corrupted in the Church?

Thursday's Therapy

A Call to Lament

Part Four

~Angie and Tommy Prince

with ~Nicholas Wolterstorff

How Did the Need for the 'Cry of Lament' Get So Corrupted in the Church?

When you go to church, or you go around people engulfed in the church's doctrines, including, very likely, many in your family and community, you may have noticed that Christians are very thrown by your ongoing lament over your child. It's as if they are saying to us, "Yes children are one of God's greatest gifts to us, a very fount of love, and laughter, and creativity in our homes, and yes you grieve when they are gone, but why do you have to go on grieving them? When is it enough? Don't you think at some point you are making God look bad?"

It is shocking for us at some level that people can be so dense, so simplistic, and ultimately mean-spirited in begrudging us of all we have left of our child, which is to mourn them. Why---if they can't lovingly support us---why can they not at least respectfully leave us alone in our grief unharassed by their judgement? 

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Christian philosopher and grieving father, opens our eyes to how some of the errors in theology have slipped into our churches and swallowed up the love there to a large degree, the love that so many of us could respond to if it were directed our way, even if only in giving us the respect to grieve as we need to.


Wolterstorff describes the view of lament from Rabbi Kushner in his popular book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People:

"God couldn't do anything about our suffering even if God wanted to, says Kushner; so crying to God for deliverance makes no sense. God---so it is said---cannot intervene in the causal order. God set our entire cosmos going; and God is capable of undoing the whole thing. But God and the causal order are not of such a sort that God could intervene within the causal order."


{Angie's palpable response: How Dare you? Who are you to think you know my God so well that you have essentially rendered Him Impotent ~the Absolute, the GOD of the Universe, the Creator, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End~ for you to say He Cannot do anything about our suffering even if He wanted to? That is not the God I serve that you are describing!

The God that I love and bow down to is the God who is intimately relating to me on a daily basis, loving me, holding me together, weeping with me, and is longing along with me for the culmination of all His endeavors to bring an end to Satan, Sin, and Death. He is not impotent. Because of sin, we live in a fallen world. He Has Done What Is Necessary To Redeem It ~ 

What do you think Christmas is all about, 

but sending His Son in love to show us God's true nature, and for 

His giving up His only Son to die on the cross to pay for our sins so that we can respond to His great love, and become His children, and 

ultimately, because of His resurrection from the dead, we may be saved from the second death so that once we die, we will be able to go to Heaven, and will live with Love for all eternity, with His Kingdom restored, His creation restored, our bodies restored, and 

Satan, Sin, and Death all destroyed forever, for all eternity? 

But of course, Rabbi Kushner, you do not know that aspect of God because you do not recognize what He Did do by sending us Jesus as you are not yet a completed Jew. I will pray for you that you may learn that beautiful truth that will make all the difference in your life now…and for all eternity.}

{Tommy's response: Rabbi Kushner, you are basically proclaiming that our Omnipotent God is impotent!}


Wolterstorff elucidates other examples of otherwise great theologians unwittingly introducing error into our already strained understanding of God amidst the terrible angst of lament:


Augustine, for example, questioned the propriety of giving voice to suffering. In his Confessions he recollects the time before his conversion, when he wept without restraint over the death of his best friend, and the time, after his conversion, when, in spite of his attempts at restraint, he wept over the death of his mother. In both cases he says that he is telling us, his readers, about these episodes so as to confess his sin. His grief, he says, was the sign that he had been guilty of too much worldly affection. The things of this world are to be used, not enjoyed. We are to find our enjoyment in God and God alone---and in the prospect of ourselves and our friends and relatives dwelling forever in the presence of God. Grief, though not precisely sinful, is the mark, the sign, of a sinful orientation of life. In Augustinian piety, lament is displaced by confession of sin.


{Angie's response: Confession of Sin? Sin? You've got to be kidding me. We are made in God's image; God has emotions; we too will have the full gamut of emotions. God is not a passive God; neither are we. When a child is born, we rejoice! We are overjoyed! When a child is killed, we are devastated; we weep; we mourn; our lives are turned upside down and we feel it. In all of its devastating agony. There is Nothing to do with Sin when I grieve my precious child. By our lament we Are proclaiming our great Thanks to God for our child's life, for how precious they were / and are to us. Our God is a passionate God. We, His people, are also passionate people, made in His image. Even now, we are poured out as a drink offering to God and to one another to love each other through our grief. 

God understands that grief. He has felt it Himself. He too is a Child-Loss Father! He does not begrudge us our tender human emotions and call them a sin, so how dare you, brother Augustine, proclaim grief "a sinful orientation of life"? Jesus, God's own Son wept over His friend's death! Despite so many wonderful things that you contributed to our own understanding of God amidst your walk with God, dear brother Augustine, here we must proclaim you are in error: 

Your passion of love for your friend and for your dear precious mother who prayed you out of the hell-you-were-living straight into the-glorious-Kingdom-of-your-Father-God is to be commended and understood as glorifying to God, loving as He would love, not characterized as sinning against Him by your deep and abiding love for these beloved ones, nor by your grief over their ultimate loss!}


John Calvin

"Augustine saw the things of the world primarily as the works of God; he urges us to look away from them to their maker. They are to be regarded and received only for our continued existence and for our approach to God. Pervasive in (John) Calvin, by contrast, is the insistence "that we are to see the things of this world not only as the works of God  but also as the gifts of God, gifts not only for utility but for delight. 

"'This life, however crammed with infinite miseries it may be, is still rightly to be counted among those blessings of God which are not to be spurned. Therefore, if we recognize in it no divine benefit, we are already guilty of grave ingratitude toward God Himself.' …

"Calvin says… we must bear our grief and suffering with patience. What did Calvin mean by patience and why did he recommend it? The clue is contained in the following passage. This 'general axiom is to be maintained, that all the sufferings to which human life is subject and liable are necessary exercises by which God partly invites us to repentance, partly instructs us in humility, and partly renders us more cautious and attentive in guarding against the allurements of sin for the future.' God is the ultimate agent of our suffering and grief. It is for our good that God causes us to suffer; suffering in general, and grief in particular, are to be interpreted as manifestations of the goodness of God. The world is, as it were, a vast reformatory. That is why we are not to follow the 'new stoics,' trying to violate our nature by becoming numb….

"...The dominant note is that grief and suffering are manifestations of God's gracious attempt to reform us...

"The appropriate attitude then is patience, forbearance, even gratitude. 'But, if it be clear that our afflictions are for our benefit, why should we not undergo them with a thankful and quiet mind?' 

"...We are to interpret our sufferings as God's instrument for reforming our souls until they are fit with fellowship with God. Accordingly, we are to discipline ourselves to endure those sufferings with patience, even with gratitude.

"...Calvin's piety of suffering is now clear. We are indeed to voice our suffering, to speak it---thus, to name it and own it. But are we to cry out for deliverance? That's not clear; if something is for my good but unpleasant, do I ask to be delivered from it? What is abundantly clear is that one does not cry out Why? because we know why. Suffering is sent by God for our good. There is no mystery. God is neither absent nor or God's ways in these manners mysterious."


{Tommy: So, according to Calvin, I am better off that my daughter was killed. And I should be grateful that she was taken. And I am supposedly acquiring a huge dose of patience and a huge breastplate against sin because, after all, this suffering is God's idea of a good reform school to keep me from the allures of sin. So according to Calvin, I should be thankful that my life has not flourished nor will it since my child died. And I am to bear all this with patience and gratitude. But to do that, I would have to stifle the lament, and essentially numb myself to my otherwise obvious pain --- now it seems like he's not much different from Augustine and the other stoics who wanted to somehow disown their own touch with reality and therefore their own human feelings. 

Is that how I really view my loving Lord, or do I align more with a fellow grieving father, Nicholas Wolterstorff who proclaims:}


"So I join the psalmist in lament. I voice my suffering, naming it and owning it. I cry out. I cry out for deliverance: 'Deliver me, O God, from this suffering. Restore me, and make me whole.' I cry out for explanation, for I no more know in general why things have gone awry with respect to God's desire than did the psalmist. 'Why, O God, is this happening? Why is Your desire, that each and every one of us should flourish here on earth until full of years,  being frustrated? It makes no sense.' 

"To lament is to risk living with one's deepest questions unanswered."

"The cry occurs within the context of the yet of enduring faith and ongoing praise, for in raising Christ from the dead, we have God's word and deed that God will be victorious in the struggle against all that frustrates God's desire. Thus divine sovereignty is not sacrificed but reconceived. 

"If lament is indeed a legitimate component of the Christian life, then divine sovereignty is not to be understood as everything happening just as God wants it to happen---or happening in such a way that God regards what God does not like as an acceptable trade-off for the good thereby achieved.  

"Divine sovereignty consists in God's winning the battle against all that has gone awry with respect to God's will."

~Nicholas Wolterstorff

{Tommy and Angie: "And O, how we long for that Day!}

Thank you to Professor, and Grieving Father Nicholas Wolterstorff for all of his research and heart's cry over his son that we have been able to benefit from together. May we all seek, together, to grow in God's wisdom even as we may have to respectfully challenge some of our forefathers in the faith from time to time...

Research, from pages 84 - 92 of Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church and the World 

(Collection, 2011 Nicholas Wolterstorff, published in 2011 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)


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