About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Providence and Lament

Lament is the language of providential hope in the face of suffering and the delay between what is and what will be.

John Swinton, ‘Patience and Lament: Living Faithfully in the Presence of Suffering’, in Francesca Aran Murphy and Philip G. Ziegler (eds.), The Providence of God: Deus Habet Consilium (London: T&T Clark, 2009), pp. 275–289; quotation from p. 283
Is lament symptomatic of a loss of confidence in God, evidence of absent faith? No. If anything, the lyrics of lament constitute a dirge that defecates on the Jobic resignation so common in everyday Christianity: ‘the LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’ (Job 1:21b, JSB). Lament is a practice that presupposes faith in a loving God but struggles to find congruity between that faith and the growing suspicion that God is not present and loving, but absent and indifferent.

According to John Swinton, the doctrine of providence affirms God’s continuing goodness despite human suffering and pain. Swinton suggests that the biblical sentiment that God works for good in all things (Rom 8:28) presupposes some kind of temporal disjointedness between present afflictions and future, even eschatological deliverance. But the point is not that those who suffer must endure their experiences even unto death, but that they learn patience in the face of adversity. Inspired by Walter Brueggemann’s own work on the psalms, Swinton observes that the psalms of lament show people how to suffer without succumbing to despair. The psalms of lament are ‘intended to give us a language and frame for our suffering and in so doing, to teach us how to suffer well.’ (Swinton, ‘Patience and Lament’, p. 281).

The psalms of lament are part of Christian Scripture and so in part constitute the narrative of Christian community. As Christians throughout the world demonstrate solidarity with one another, those whose faith in God is a riot of flame can reignite the dying embers of those who struggle. Through praying and reading the psalms of lament, whether communally or privately, the afflicted are presented to God as the Spirit unites all to the Father through the Son’s intercession. Thus the faithful practice of lament within the Christian community is a provision of God and confirmation of the Father’s ongoing love for his children.