I attended a church service a few years ago in which the sermon referenced Psalm 90:9-10: “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble.”
“I can’t imagine anyone this side of Christ using these words,” he said.
We need the gut-wrenching honesty of Job, the sobering reminders of Ecclesiastes, and the honest songs and prayers of the Psalms, even this side of Christ.
I haven’t known how to respond to the news of the residential school deaths. “It fatigues me,” writes a friend. “This is unmitigated evil. It should never have happened.”
It’s not just the one crisis, either, but the endless bad news. Last Saturday, gunfire erupted at a birthday party, leaving four people injured, including three children. The shooting took place on a street where friends live, part of the community where I used to pastor. It’s not hard to find other bad news. Pick up any news site on any day and you’ll find yourself supplied.
A Christian Response to Brutal News
Compounding the problem is how some Christians respond. I’ve occasionally made the mistake of reading responses on social media to seemingly innocuous posts, and it can be disheartening. “The worst thing that Christians do on social media is what everyone else does on social media,” I heard a friend say last week.
Scripture points us to another way.
Scripture frees us from our need to have a ready answer to all the horrible news we encounter. It gives us prayers we can use instead, like this one: “Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!” (Psalm 90:13)
Job 2:13 records the best thing that Job’s friends did as he suffered. “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Of course, they blew it after that. Job’s friends sound right in what they said, but they failed in both the content (what they didn’t say) and tone (how they said it) of their theology. Scripture speaks a word to sufferers, but not a word of easy answers and veiled accusations.
I’m working at staying silent, trying to learn and be present from those who suffer, even including victims who can no longer speak for themselves. I’m also rifling through the psalms, looking for laments that give me words when I don’t have any of my own.
Listening and lament aren’t all that’s needed, but it’s a good place to start.
Even Christians can say that life is full of toil and trouble. Even Christians can cry out, “Return, O LORD! How long?” We may sometimes lose our voices, especially in the face of so much evil and suffering, but sometimes having no words of our own is okay. Scripture gives voice to our cries. Sometimes our presence, our tears, and our laments speak more powerfully than anything else we could say.