Lament, Good Friday, 2020


‘How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!’ (Lamentations 1:1a).
Not so lonely in the local bakery this morning (allowing for social distancing) – but generally,
yes. Lonely, diminished. Reaching out via Zoom and other means.
The pandemic gives us a lot to lament about – its economic impact as well as the impact on
health. But have we brought it on ourselves with our rapacious approach to nature undermining
biodiversity and facilitating the transmission of diseases from animals to humans? Our excessive
exploitation of nature in pursuit of higher living standards has gone too far. We see this also with
climate change. What is the cause of excessive carbon emissions? We are paying the price and
need to move in the direction of sustainable growth – or just sustainability perhaps. This is all
quite apart from the division between the rich world and the poor world. It is the former that is
most to blame, even allowing for the considerable (and increasing) divisions within the rich
world.
I could lament also the brokenness we often experience and witness in personal relationships.
But at this point I want to lament the brokenness in our socio-political situation.
How do we move on? Where is God in all of this? For a socio-political situation we need to think
and act politically. I don’t have an instant answer. To move in the right direction requires a
multi-faceted strategy, keeping in mind Max Weber’s dictum that politics is ‘slow boring
through hard boards’.
God is there in the suffering – The Crucified God in the title of Jürgen Moltmann’s book. Since
God’s essence is love, whenever humanity suffers, God suffers. On Good Friday we remember
Christ’s suffering – the consequences of our inhumanity in a specific situation (many Christians
of course – including Scott Morrison in his message to the Christian churches in Australia –
focus on ‘Christ’s sacrifice’, as if a loving God would will this death as some kind of expiation
for human ‘sin’).
If God suffers with us, then this helps us to develop the will to transcend our contemporary plight
and move towards the new Jerusalem.
While Lamentations presents a picture of Jerusalem being destroyed through God’s wrath with
the people of Judah, this is not the whole picture. Consider Lamentations 3: 22-24: ‘The steadfast
love (hesed in Hebrew) never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every
morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will
hope in him.”’
Addendum – or is it a new chapter? Easter Day, 2020
Having focused on the sociopolitical situation in my lament, how does this appear in the light of
Easter? The Hebrew focus on hope connects with the Christian concept of resurrection. In the
Hebrew Bible there is some element of hope in Lamentations, coming out more strongly in other
parts of scripture such as Isaiah 40. However, even in Isaiah 40 the focus on hope is in the light
of the people having paid for their transgressions through the experience of exile in Babylon

(40:2: ‘she has served her term … her penalty is paid …she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins’).
The idea of God’s judgement or even wrath often comes out in Christian understandings.
Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural saw the American Civil War as God’s judgement upon
slavery (not as strong as in the Battle Hymn of the Republic, the abolitionist anthem, that spoke
of ‘the grapes of wrath’ and God’s ‘terrible swift sword’).
How do we reconcile this idea of God’s judgement with the universalism of God’s love? I
believe humanity judges itself by its transgressions, with much suffering as the consequence (the
weakest often suffering the most, more than the greatest transgressors). God identifies with our
suffering, giving us the strength to move forward in love. Even though Lincoln believed that
Americans had been judged, he also spoke of reconciliation based on ‘malice toward none …
charity for all … [and] … firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.’
Applying this to our current crisis, we might see some signs of hope or resurrection in the
apparent flattening of the curve in Australia, keeping in mind that there are so many situations in
the world that are very grim, and with probably more to emerge. Resurrection is not just for the
chosen few. God loves all. Fortified by that love, we should reach out from Fortress Australia to
help our neighbours, both close and distant.
Derek McDougall