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Lamentation and Limitation

by George Garrison

Posted: June 11, 2020

Reacting to both a physical and social virus…

George Garrison is senior pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois. He began writing "Thursday Thoughts" during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so much of the church's activities had to go virutal. (SeniorLifestyle editor Stu Johnson attends this church).

Amidst the protest and the outrage we have seen in the last couple of weeks, we have also heard cries and woes. Many have been driven to their knees in prayer, perhaps even those who would not characterize themselves as the “praying type.” It is certainly appropriate to cry out and lament the state of our country right now; but it’s also important to realize that Scripture provides us with a paradigm for which to cry out to God. Many of the psalms (almost one third) provide us with the proper way to lament. The examples from Scripture are not to simply cry out and express our frustration with uncontrollable emotion and despair. God has given us limits for our lamentation.

First, there is a limit of expression. While the emotions that accompany lament are rightfully freely expressed, Scripture compels us to address our expression to God. Psalm 13 with its opening line of “How Long, O Lord!” reveals that a healthy lament consists of not simply complaining or venting about the circumstances in general but doing so with God as the object of our expression. In this way we not only acknowledge His power and sovereignty, but that we are lamenting the way things are in the world that He has made.

Second, there is a limit of expectation. In our society filled with the effects of both a physical and social virus, we can perhaps cry out expecting that if we cry fervently enough and to the right people, there will be help for our present state of difficulty. How tempting it is to believe that the escape from our predicaments lies in a vaccine or in the power of human reconciliation. Scripture’s laments remind us that our help and deliverance lie not in the wisdom and measures of humankind’s capabilities, but in the very power of God. It is this crucial limit to our lament to recognize God’s power and deliverance that keeps us from getting stuck in the first stage of crying out and moves us to transform our generic cries into specific prayers.

Third, there is a limit of exaltation. Scripture compels us to remember that the goal of our deliverance is not to exalt the power of human achievement, but to exalt the power and majesty of God. Psalm 13 is a great example of how David was preoccupied with dangerous circumstances (probably hiding from the murderous threats of his son, Absalom) at the beginning of his cry for help, and yet David’s transformed focus for deliverance is not simply deliverance, but the exaltation of God. God’s glory alone and His reputation among the unbelieving consume David’s own cries for deliverance. When we become more zealous for God’s glory in the course of our lament than we do for our own relief, we can be certain that Scripture has governed our lament in the way God intended.

In the upcoming couple of sermons, I will continue to look at what it means for us to biblically lament in our world today. Along the way it is my hope that we will grow in our understanding and appropriation of the indispensable act of lament and the scriptural principles that govern it. There are no limits to what God can do in us when we embrace the limitations of our lamentation.

Praying for you, and lamenting with you,

Pastor George

(c) 2020 George Garrison

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George Garrison is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois.

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Posted: June 11, 2020

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