I am grieved, grieved by the deaths, unrest, and hatred running rampant across our world. Grief is not something I feel easily nor express well, yet it is a frequent idiom in the Bible. Lament is a word not commonly used by Evangelical Christians, yet the Psalms and the Prophets—not to mention Lamentations—are filled with the tears of the saints weeping over this sinful and broken world. I was pleased to receive a copy of Mark Vroegop’s Weep with Me as part of the Crossway Blog Review program because I need to learn how to lament better. I know many men and women in my life who would be greatly served by feeling free and equipped to lament to their God concerning their circumstances. I am also broken by the pain I hear in conservations and read about on social media and in blogs from my brothers and sisters who have been and are currently affected by racism in any of a dozen forms. I grieve that Jesus’ Church in North America, Australia, and across the world painfully reflects the world’s own struggles with identity and is not always the city shining on a hill that it is supposed to be, that the truth that Jesus has torn down the dividing wall of hostility separating people of all ethnicities and skin colours is not reflected in the way we love one another (Eph 2:14-21; cf. Gal 3:23-29; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:5-11). I have not done well in this regard; I can think of countless times where my insensitive words around issues of race have caused pain in brothers and sisters. I want to do better, and Weep with Me offers a compelling perspective on one way we can do so.
In Weep with Me, Mark Vroegop draws on his own experience as a pastor of a church seeking to live out racial and ethnic unity and on his study of laments in Scripture,((cf. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Recovering the Grace of Lament)) arguing that lament gives us a grammar to discuss issues of racism and to grow in our fellowship with believers of other ethnicities. He does not claim that lament is the solution to racism in the Church but that it is a way that we can build community and empathy that will lead to other fruitful paths for racial reconciliation. In Part 1, Vroegop unpacks the concept of lament and draws parallels between Biblical laments and African-American Spirituals, arguing that lament gives us a language to bridge the gap of experience between those of in majority cultures and those from minority cultures. In Part 2, he addresses those of us from a majority culture, showing how we can use the language of lament to communicate with and empathize with our brothers and sisters from minority cultures. In Part 3, he then addresses those from minority cultures, showing that lament can be freeing for those who are suffering and offers a way to communicate with hope to Christians in the majority culture.
I do not agree with everything Vroegop says in the book, and some of the sources he cites are troubling,((he explicitly writes that he has read broadly and cited sources that he by no means endorses)) yet that is part of his point: lament gives us a language to move past disagreement and debate towards empathy. We do not need to agree with every cause and every possible solution to acknowledge that our brother and sisters in Canada, the United States, and Australia wrestle with hurt and pain associated with being part of a minority culture. Lament, Vroegop argues, gives us the opportunity to empathize with that pain and to show that we desire to walk with, learn from, and be transformed as walk with one another.
Vroegop identifies a four-fold pattern of lamentation:
Turn—choosing to talk to God about our pain
Complain—candidly praying about the struggles, questions, and disappointments
Ask—boldly calling upon God to be true to his promises
Trust—reaffirming what we believe about God (150, cf. 38-40)
The Book of Lamentations is an obvious example of a lament, but others include the brutal lament in Job 3, and several psalms, such as Psalm 22 (quoted by Jesus on the Cross), Psalm 42, Psalm 88, etc. I commend Weep with Me not as a perfect resource but as one that points us back to the Word and a facet of its teaching often neglected in our day. We need to be a people who follow the words of our Lord through His apostle Paul, we must “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (Rom 12:15). In conclusion, I offer my own lament on the issue of racial reconciliation:
Father, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Forgive me for the times that I have aggravated the sufferings of my brothers and my sisters with insensitive and contentious words uttered when I ought to have been slow to speak, quick to listen, and to have wept with those who wept. Forgive me for all the times when my silence has magnified the pain of generations of silence towards the suffering and mistreatment of those despised and downtrodden in our churches and culture.
I am grieved that my fellow Christians for whom you have died need to encourage one another to love the way they have been made because they are told daily, in a myriad of ways, they are not the way they ought to be. I am grieved that your people fear those you have appointed to uphold righteousness and peace in society and that even a trip to the supermarket may be an opportunity for fear, even of death. I hate that we have to affirm what ought to be obvious to all, that each and every black life, those in the womb and those who have died unjustly, matter dearly to you and ought to be treated with the respect and dignity of those who bear your precious image. I hate the division and pain of racism in our past and the present, both in our cultures but, more significantly, in your Church. Your Church ought to be a beacon of light amid the darkness, where men and women of all ethnicities and ages feel welcome and safe. Break my heart more every day over the reality that this often not the case.
This world needs you, Jesus, a king who rules with justice and righteousness. A king who does not play favourites but upholds perfect justice and showers mercy and kindness upon the widow, the orphan, the oppressed and mistreated. Come Lord Jesus come, realize your perfect justice here and now. As we wait upon your return, give your Church wisdom and humility to live out the unity to which you have called us. Help us be a people who weep with one another, who feel the brokenness and sin of this world and refuse to turn a blind eye to the suffering of our sisters and brothers. May your Church be a beacon of hope in this dying world.
I know you will return one day soon, and on that day, we will see your perfect justice. Your steadfast love and sure kindness will be demonstrated. I trust now that you are faithful to your promises; blessed be the name of the Lord, now and forevermore.