Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lamentations: Out of darkness comes a brighter light

If God were to stop listening to our prayers, it would be justice; our sins against him would be sufficient to merit such a response. On the other hand, when he does deign to answer our petitions, his mercy at work. It is important to remember that his helping hand, which reaches down from the heights of heaven, is not compelled by justice nor is it merited by what we deserve. No. His Fatherly love and his aid are totally gratuitous.

But even when our prayers seemed to be ignored, it is to our benefit. Sometimes we ask for things that are not good for us or if they are good for us, the Lord has something better in mind. As he said in book of Isaiah, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Still, when we experience the silence of God or when we petition the Lord for some favor and it goes unanswered, a kind of desolation sets in. Feelings of abandonment from Him whom we relied on the most can lead a soul to the brink of despair. All incentives to be thankful, all reasons to hope and all of those circumstances which formerly lent themselves to happiness appear to be suspended and beyond our reach. With this, we become acquainted with what seems to be divine justice. In a kind of solidarity with our crucified Lord, nearly all canonized Saints have experienced this kind of anguish of spirit. Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles were forced to become acquainted with it. Indeed, through this kind of holy abandonment their love for God was put to the test. This could not be better illustrated with the following passage from Lamentations:

“I am one who has known affliction under the rod of God’s anger, one whom he has driven and forced to walk in darkness, not in light; with poverty and hardship…He has left me to dwell in dark places like those long dead. He has hemmed me in with no escape, weighed me down with chains; even when I cry for help, he stops my prayer… He has made me eat gravel, trampled me into the dust; My life is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; My enduring hope, I said, has perished before the LORD.”

It is as if the Lord was the accuser or the tormentor of this prophet. The complaint about how God is treating the author of Lamentations closely parallels the Phoenician woman who persistently pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter from a demon. Initially, she was met with what seemed like a rude stiff arm from our Lord. But she refused to back down. Finally, Jesus rewarded her faith and perseverance. Her daughter was healed.

God will often “stiff-arm” his closest friends for a period of time so that our love for him may be purified from self-seeking motives. Yes, He may leave us destitute; he may allow us to fail or he may send us trials so that we do not become spoiled sons or daughters. No doubt, he stirs the waters of our soul so that we will yearn for him and even look forward to a better, more fulfilled existence in heaven.

You may have heard the saying: It is darkest before dawn. Forest fires quite often lay everything to waste. After such natural disasters, all color, all beauty, all life seems to disappear. Nothing but ash and death remain. But from this loss comes new life and vegetation. It is as if the forest was purged so that its trees, flowers and plants could grow more abundantly.

The same applies to human suffering. I have heard many accounts that speak to this phenomenon where life in abundance emerges from desolation and even from a kind of death to self. In the midst of the crisis or loss, God’s answer presents itself. Peace and joy, even in extreme pain, are mysteriously offered by God for the taking! And that light of heaven and hope, once believed to be gone forever, pierces through the darkest of times. The irony is that what appears to be a total loss, what appears to be a total failure and what appears to be the gates of death closing in are but the instruments God uses to bring about new life and a new found happiness.

From despair to hope: The author of Lamentations, as bad as it seemed for him, was inspired to recall God’s goodness and mercy.

“But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness…It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance… For the Lord does not reject forever; though he brings grief, he takes pity, according to the abundance of his mercy; He does not willingly afflict or bring grief to human beings.”

Silence is the language of God. And in silence we wait for Him so that when he speaks we may listen and then act.

The bible is full of lamentations and human suffering. It was the Almighty himself who inspired the sacred authors of the Old and New Testament to express their grief, their anger and even their doubts. The Lord then took up these feelings of loss and these pains in order to sanctify and redeem them. And I hazard to guess the reason why He did this is due to the fact that He has the answer to our lamentations. One that will completely satisfy our human curiosity as to why bad things happen to good people. Indeed, it is through the darkest of times that a brighter light shines. But until that light is revealed to you, remember that the Hand that disciplines and tears down is the same Hand that heals and builds-up again. This is the Mystery of the Cross. When it is accepted for the love of God and neighbor, then lamentations will undoubtedly turn into joy.