the 9th year of Zedekiah, puppet-king of Judah,
on the tenth day of the tenth month, the siege of Jerusalem began.
On the ninth day of the fourth month of the next year, all hell broke loose.
On the seventh day of the fifth month… Jerusalem was reduced to a pile of burning rubble.
In the Hebrew, the book of Lamentations is just called “How?”.
Evil and suffering are real and present in this life. War, famine, drought, sickness, cancer, broken relationship, betrayal, violence and corruption are here to stay in this world.
How do we respond?
Eugene Peterson puts forward three ways:
- Recognition. Call the disaster for what it is, don’t sugar coat it. Recognising is means we acknowledge it, and can begin to work through the experience.
- Response. The book of Lamentations responds to the disaster of the beloved city of the writer by composing five highly structured poems that describe the event, the effects and the reasons. Responding to suffering, and evil, by putting our thoughts down on paper or screen, or even video, begins to bring order to the chaos. We have to think it through before we can communicate it.
- Context. All evil and suffering has a beginning, and an end. Both may be unthinkable, but are still real. In Eugene Peterson’s words, it is ‘historical’, that is, bound by time. Neither evil nor suffering we experience in this life will be eternal. There is a danger when we are in the midst of suffering to allow it to become our identity, to believe it is who we are. Putting this experience in context is a healthy spiritual step to avoid such a slide.
He took the deliberate action to enter into our history, to teach, to experience, to suffer, to die, and to be the first-fruits of the resurrection life.
The book of Lamentations, read out annually by the Jews on the ‘ninth of Ab’ accompanied with fasting and remembrance, helps us know that while evil and suffering are not yet eliminated, and are almost impossibly difficult to explain, God does understand and is present even in our deepest pain.
Reference: Eugene Peterson “Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work”