Sobbing with God

Mourning with mourners, we share the compassionate heart of God
November 1, 2007

A frequent cause of traffic jams on highways in my area is the "looky Lou" habit in which drivers slow down to examine an accident on the side of the road. Usually an ambulance already has arrived, so it's not as if people want to help. They just to want to look.

Similarly, when public tragedies occur, we find ourselves hooked on monitoring news coverage. At first, this helps us move through the shock phase of grief, but then it comes to resemble that morbid "looky Lou" phenomenon. Perhaps we do this because we don't know what else to do.

If obsessing on news reports isn't the best response to tragedy, what is? While better responses include comforting the afflicted, joining a cleanup crew or donating money, there's another important response that off-site folks can participate in: the ongoing weeping with God, whose heart throbs when humans suffer or wander off. Such weeping is, I believe, an ongoing way to "mourn with those who mourn."

Weeping with those who weep invites us to become God's weeping companions. God weeps --sobs might be a more fitting verb, for the tears stream down: "Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people." (Jeremiah 9:1)

Even though God often weeps throughout Scripture (especially in the poets and prophets), our "Don't worry, be happy" culture may avoid these passages. I stumbled into weeping with God after reading about the two million women and children held captive in the sex-trafficking industry each year -- how they are lured, lied to, kidnapped and coerced into bondage.

At the same time, my daily meditations had moved through the psalms to Psalm 56. As I read the passage, I pictured myself as a young girl of 12 trapped in a city unknown to me and beaten violently into submission to prostitution. The words of Psalm 56 fit my (her) situation and caused me to use the words of the psalm to pray for her:

When she is afraid, help her put her "trust in you." Help her believe, "in God I trust; I will not be afraid!" Help her to be courageous and declare, "What can mortal man do to me?" and "On no account let [her] enemies escape!" I also added prayers for certain organizations that I know about that assist these women and children.

Such praying is important because we keep company with God in the waiting room of time here on earth, crying over the tragic state of those exploited and oppressed and even those bent on exploiting and oppressing.

Such lament prayers also involve praying for those we perceive to be the bad guys. Seven years before Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis, he wrote about praying for our enemies, that by doing so we do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Our tears nudge us closer to the eventual goal of wanting what's best for them -- and this is called love.

I struggled with not wanting to weep for the "bad guys" when I attempted to pray for the manager of one of my family members. The one I love reported being ridiculed in front of others when this manager was mistaken about the facts. No amount of friendly explanations, reasonable clarity, or confidential talks with personnel seemed to dissuade this person from continual yelling.

I knew I could benefit from weeping over this manager, but it wasn't possible until I found a phrase in psalms about how unjust people are said to "walk about in darkness" (82:5). That phrase described this manager and created more mercy in me. He (like the sex traffickers) walked in darkness, thinking that yelling at people would improve their performance. He was imprisoned in a desire to control and a continuing habit of rage. I asked God to free from bondage this one walking about in darkness.

If such prayer sounds too emotional, consider that it is very practical. The suffering on this earth is part of reality, and such prayer moves us away from the sentimentalism sometimes associated with prayer. A weeping heart is a tough one -- one that has moved outside the world of me, myself and I and into the reality of life that God observes every day.

Or perhaps you cry only at movies. Well, I'm not sure that my eyes physically cry when my soul weeps. Scripture speaks of the soul crying out. It's not emotionalism, but a will bent toward wanting God's will to be accomplished on this earth.

You may wonder what might cause God to weep now. Daily instances occur on this planet that cause God to weep as people turn away from God, as people prefer themselves to God and others.

Since such instances are documented in the newspaper, I view reading it daily (especially the world news section) as a way to see what is happening in this world God so loves that might cause God to weep. Where are the poor, the needy, the hurting today? What natural disaster has caused people just like me to become widowed or orphaned? What is happening today in yesterday's crisis locations: Rwanda? Vietnam? Being present and attentive to those in crisis is part of how we co-labor with God as a light in the darkness.

To weep with the suffering does not mean, however, that we have a good cry and get on with other things. It's more that we have a good cry and we are never the same.

Weeping with God gives us a place from which to speak and act. We serve then, not with the voice of a do-gooder, but from a broken heart -- one that has had a glimpse of what that merciful, compassionate heart of God goes through. It fuels our efforts to reach out and helps us love God all the more.

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