How lament can lead to hope in a time of plague

Grieving our losses amid the pandemic

December 16, 2020

Like so many others across the country, our family has had to make difficult decisions regarding whether to uphold some of our family traditions as the holiday season approaches. While this pandemic persists, do we exercise caution and forego our family gatherings, or do we gather in spite of the virus’s continued spread? With a great deal of disappointment, we chose the former. 

As of this writing, COVID-19 continues its thievery, having stolen away more than 300,000 American lives, nearly every sense of normalcy that existed prior to its global spread, and, tragically, it continues robbing us of precious time, the most valuable of commodities. In many ways, life as we know it has endured its own sort of stay-at-home order while, simultaneously, time continues its forward march.

The paradox of pain

While the country aims to get this virus under control, there are inevitable losses and compromises that we must suffer. Yet, I fear we’ve neglected to address sufficiently the loss of time that being homebound necessitates. From the confines of our quarantine, we’re watching many of the moments and milestones of our lives pass by from an uncomfortable and lonely distance. As restrictions once again tighten, putting our holiday gatherings in question, the hugs, laughs, and quality time that are so much a part of this season’s cultural liturgy will, en masse, go unexperienced. And we should lament this loss. 

In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop says that “lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.” As my family and I have grappled with our decision not to attend our holiday gathering, I can’t help but imagine what that decision has cost us. There are nieces and nephews who will have left for college before we see them again, there are wounds still fresh with grief over the recent loss of grandparents, wounds that could be healed with hugs and shared memories, and there are missed late-night conversations had over cups of hot coffee with family members who we see far too infrequently. These are real, painful losses—losses of life, I would argue—and they should be processed with real lament. 

There is profound pain bound up in this season of pandemonium, and its reaches spread deeper and wider than we can imagine, beyond the loss of physical life and into the loss of experienced life and shared moments. As we’ve been shut up in our homes, and will continue to be for a little while longer, there’s a whole world turning outside our doors. We’re getting older. Our friends and family are getting older, and life continues to happen. Have you grieved the moments that you and your family have lost? Lament, while we’re quarantined in our homes, may be the most faithful and productive way forward.

The promise of God’s goodness

At every end of the spectrum, from the birth of newborn babies to the celebration of new marriage pronouncements to the grief of graveside funeral services, COVID-19 has stripped many of us of our ability to witness these milestones and countless others. As it marches forward and stakes claim on new ground, affecting now our most precious holidays, we’re undoubtedly experiencing a second wave of weariness. A season that functions as a balm for so many now seems spoiled by this persistent and vile little virus. In a year so fraught with heartache, is the practice of lament, an exercise meant to reckon with our deepest pain, really the right remedy?

In this time of plague, and the days beyond, let the pain of your lament redirect your gaze toward the goodness of God in the person of Christ. 

While the pain that prompts lament is real, pain is not its terminus; lament is a practice shrouded in pain but rooted in hope. After all, for the Christian, the cry of lament is not concerned most fundamentally with the experience of pain but with the recognition that “things are not supposed to be this way,” or, as Vroegop alludes to, “the promise of God’s goodness” yet unseen. As much as we may imagine that lament will take us deeper into the darkness of our pain (and in some sense it will), more importantly, staring squarely into the apparent dissonance between our collective experience and God’s fundamental goodness is an exercise in Christian hope. It is a guttural rendition of the language of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come.” It is a Godward plea for the lifting of the dark clouds that hover overhead. 

So, have you grieved the loss of life, both physical and experienced, that you’ve suffered during this time of plague? Are you, like me, anticipating a holiday table with seats unfilled? Does it seem that rather than the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord filling the earth as the waters cover the sea,” it is instead a destructive virus taking up that mantle? Cry out. The goodness of God, even in the throes of lament, will spur you on to hope. 

The goodness of God in the person of Christ

Life as a creature in a fallen cosmos is hard. We are vulnerable in more ways than we’re willing to admit, susceptible to the smallest of inconveniences and the largest of calamities, all marching onward to face our final enemy, death. Lamentation, therefore, should be a central part of the church’s shared vocabulary. As children cry out to their parents when in dismay, the children of God should cultivate a greater proclivity for lament.

But even as we develop greater fluency in lament, we should recognize that, because of God’s grace, it is only a temporary practice. At the soon-coming of Jesus, the language of lament will be “un-Babeled” from our lips, when he once for all wipes every tear from our eyes. This is chiefly why hope is so intrinsic to Christian lament: We pour our lamentations out to the One who took on flesh and dwelt among us, the One who modeled lament for us at the graveside of his friend, and who will one day bring all lamentations to their necessary end. When Jesus descends from heaven, planting his physical foot on this physical Earth and making it his physical home, his re-made world will have no place for the cry of lament, only the shouts of ever-increasing joy. 

For now, though, cry for a world in turmoil. Grieve the time lost and the empty chairs encircling your holiday table. Cultivate the language of lament. Stare squarely into the face of your pain and recognize that those deep, guttural groans are hopeful pleas for the coming Kingdom of Christ. In this time of plague, and the days beyond, let the pain of your lament redirect your gaze toward the goodness of God in the person of Christ. 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24