WEEK 2: Pain, Protest and Prayer (Part 1)
An introduction to Lamentations
Her strength gone, her food reserves exhausted, Jerusalem fell to Babylonian forces in 586 BC. For the Judeans, years of servitude and terror had culminated in conquest, occupation, siege, famine, bloodshed and exile. Their king, Zedekiah, had fled with his army towards Arabia, only to be overtaken by Babylonian forces near Jericho and delivered to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, at his headquarters in Riblah (north of Israel at that time, now in the south of Syria). After forcing Zedekiah to watch as his sons were executed, the Babylonians ‘put out’ his eyes and took him in chains to Babylon. Then Jerusalem – complete with its walls, houses and the temple of Yahweh – was looted, burned and razed. The Babylonians gathered up the survivors; the elite – that is, all the potential leaders – were delivered to Nebuchadnezzar, who put them to death, while the rest were taken back to Babylon as captives. Only small numbers of the poorest citizens were left behind to work the land.
Read 2 Kings 25:1–12 and 18–21
Having lived through invasion, occupation, war, siege, conquest and famine, the Judean remnant left behind were a devastated people in a devastated land. Through the five poems that make up the book of Lamentations, we come face to face with their raw pain. The poems, which contain testimony and prayers of protest, were written in the wake of genocidal violence, in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Though Lamentations speaks of the trauma of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC, it is still relevant today, for it speaks into the contemporary sufferings of the Church. Today, Christian survivors are asking the same questions that Jerusalem’s survivors asked: “How long, O Lord? How much, O Lord? Why do You forget us? Can You even see us? Do You even care?” The fact that Jerusalem acknowledges its guilt does not make Lamentations irrelevant to ‘innocent’ Christians. On the contrary, if the defiantly rebellious, unfaithful ‘Lady Zion’ can cry for mercy to the LORD whom she so shamefully betrayed and aggrieved, then so can anyone!
On account of phenomenal Church growth since the 1960s, around 80 percent of the Church is now found in the non-Western world; many of these believers suffer as persecuted religious minorities in nations known for appalling corruption and shocking records of human rights. Some 200 million Christians are living with the threat of imprisonment, torture and death, and a further 400 million Christians are living with crippling religious discrimination and social hostility that guarantees generational poverty and endless hardship.
Is this something that surprises you? Why shouldn’t it?
In your own life, when you are deeply hurt, angry and confused, are your personal private prayers the perfectly polite and shallow communications that reveal God as little more than a casual associate or stranger, or are your prayers the open and honest communications of one in a secure, trusting and intimate relationship with God?
Maybe this is the whole purpose of Lamentations: to show us that God wants us to come to Him in our pain and confusion and protest, that we might be open and honest with Him as we would with an intimate, trusted friend. Maybe in Lamentations, God is giving us permission to grieve and express our pain and confusion openly and honestly, to protest and even be angry – anything, just so long as we do not withdraw with simmering tensions and unanswered questions; just so long as we keep communicating.
Elizabeth Kendal is a dedicated international religious liberty analyst and advocate. Elizabeth maintains two blogs: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) to facilitate strategic mission, aid, advocacy and prayer; and Religious Liberty Monitoring (providing additional news and analysis).