“I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; My eyes fail while I wait for my God.” Psalm 69:2-3 [NASB]
Scott has had the misfortune of being chided a couple of times recently for answering the question, “How are you?” in a way that did not reflect the joy the person asking the question expected to hear from him. As a result we have a running joke that some day he will answer with his best Jack Nicholson impersonation, “You can’t handle the truth!”
All joking aside, though, the truth is many people refuse to handle the truth. Specifically the truth that sometimes suffering does not miraculously resolve and some sorrows will linger until Christ returns or we go Home.
A while ago I came across the phrase “sunshine Christianity” in an article about the prosperity gospel movement. I wish I could find the article that referenced it to give proper credit, but I can’t. The phrase stuck with me, though, as a clever encapsulated description of a phenomenon I am becoming increasingly aware of.
Sunshine Christianity makes no distinction between happiness and joy, and sets them as both the goal and mark of Christianity. We are to be guided by the pursuit of joy, constantly striving for and consciously choosing that which makes us happy. That same happiness is then the mark and measure of our faith. Bolstered by a belief that God will not allow prolonged suffering, it sets time limits on brokenness and sorrow and will not tolerate their lingering. The broken and sorrowful are admonished to “choose joy,” with the clear implication that any expression other than a joyous one reflects failed faith. Sunshine Christianity wrongly presumes sorrow and struggle must be eradicated and replaced with happiness. It fails to realize our capacity for joy in the midst of sorrow.
Tragically, Sunshine Christianity effectively eliminates a tremendously valuable component of worship displayed throughout scripture. It banishes lament. The laments contained in scripture are profound and powerful examples of faith. They have been used mightily by God throughout the centuries to inspire and spur on countless weary and battle worn saints. Christ Himself modeled lament in the presence of His disciples as He cried out to God the Father in the garden of Gethsemane.
The laments in scripture typically include three main components. They begin with a detailed account of the sorrows of the lamenter followed by an acknowledgment of the character and nature of God and conclude with a declaration of trust in and praise to God.
“When I wept in my soul with fasting, It became my reproach. When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them. Those who sit in the gate talk about me, And I [am] the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, at an acceptable time; O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness, Answer me with Your saving truth. … Answer me, O LORD, for Your lovingkindness is good; According to the greatness of Your compassion, turn to me, … But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, O God, set me [securely] on high. I will praise the name of God with song And magnify Him with thanksgiving. And it will please the LORD better than an ox [Or] a young bull with horns and hoofs. The humble have seen [it and] are glad; You who seek God, let your heart revive.” Psalm 69:10-13, 16, 29-32 NASB]
The detailed expression of sorrows and distresses at the beginning of the lament is no less appropriate or God honoring than the expression of trust or praise at the conclusion. To the contrary, the expression of trust and praise to God at the conclusion is actually magnified by the degree of sorrow and distress presented at the beginning.
Through sharing our struggles, sorrow, distress, anguish and heartache we are best able to testify of God’s sufficient grace, lovingkindness, mercy and sustaining power. Sharing struggles not only allows us to shoulder one another’s burdens, but it also allows us to glorify God together as we see His hand in preserving and sustaining through trial and tribulation.
Sunshine Christianity wrongly robs us of this experience, but perhaps that is by design. Perhaps Sunshine Christianity is a double edged sword precisely designed and wielded by the adversary to both shame the sorrowful into silence and isolation, and simultaneously prevent the magnification of God’s glory through silencing their transparent testimonies of lament.
A song of lament will echo in my heart and mind until Christ comes or I go Home. My sorrow at Sarah’s absence and my longing for my Savior, heaven and her will not cease in this life. The fact that they remain is testimony of my faith in God’s promise of our glorious future prepared in heaven by Him (Heb. 11:36).
Songs of lament flowing from shattered hearts are like beacons in the night for the wounded masses of this fallen world. Just as God powerfully uses the laments contained in scripture, He will use our transparent testimonies of lament as well. Through transparently sharing our sorrows we have opportunity to comfort others with the comfort we have been given. The greatest comfort for us who believe being that this is not our Home, we are but sojourners here, and in just a little while He who is coming to take us Home will come and will not delay (Heb. 10:37). Come, Lord Jesus.
Artwork: Sarah Harmening