By / Jun 1

In a span of just 10 days, the United States was rocked by the news of two mass shootings. The first, a racially motivated crime, occurred in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people. The most recent tragedy occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and resulted in the deaths of 19 students and 2 adults. The nation finds itself, once more, discussing and debating what policies and prevention are needed to stop these atrocities and how to do so in a way that respects our Second Amendment rights. Christians should be ready to enter into those complex discussions with a perspective that is governed by a desire to honor God through obedience to Christ and protect the vulnerable. In the midst of these crucial conversations, it’s also important that we weep with those who weep while being forced to reckon with the inevitability of our own deaths.

Weeping in the face of sorrow 

Undoubtedly, when Paul instructed the churches in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep,” he envisioned the example of Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb. While the Son of Man fully trusted in the Father and did not waver regarding his goodness and sovereignty—even amid the suffering and loss of Lazarus—he still wept. Jesus’ perfect knowledge did not prevent him from expressing perfect compassion and grief in the face of deep personal loss. As those who follow the Savior who wept over the brokenness that sin brought into the world, we too, when we take sin and its effect on our world seriously, will be moved to mourn with the mourners. In doing so, we imitate Christ, the Incarnate God who is near to those who are brokenhearted (Ps. 43:18) grappling with suffering that is impossible for our finite minds to make sense of. 

While we weep with those who weep and seek to bring comfort to others as those who have been comforted by the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), we will inevitably be reminded of our own mortality as we come face to face with the reality of death. And, if we are not, Jesus believed we should be. This is seen in a passage from Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus encountered a group of people asking questions about the fate of the Galileans who perished at Pilate’s hand (Luke 13:1-5), he quickly redirected their inquiries. 

Facing our mortality 

As one reads the passage, an underlying assumption about the crowd emerges. Based on Jesus’ answer, it would appear that the crowd presumed that there was something inherently defective about those who suffer in this world. Otherwise, in their mind, why would such a horrible thing be allowed to happen? That was the only way they could think to make sense of such a tragedy. Jesus, however, answered by saying that there was nothing substantive or morally different between the Galileans who perished under Pilate and those who did not. The evil committed by Pilate against those Galileans was not due to something wrong with them. 

Jesus then went on to make the same point in the passage by highlighting another tragic accident in Siloam, where a tower had fallen on a group of 18 people, killing all of them. Those that survived in Siloam were not more righteous than those who perished. In other words, one’s goodness or badness is not the sum total explanation for “why” any given tragedy occurs. Jesus rebuked the people for what was implied in their search for an answer to the evil they experienced and turned their question on its head by ending his comments with a warning of repentance. 

Those that addressed Jesus were hoping that they could establish criteria for the type of people that bad things happen to, but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. He would not let them rest in the idea that somehow they could, through their own decisions and effort, avoid the horrors of this life in a fallen world. Instead, what they could do is repent and prepare for eternity so that they would not perish forever. In the Old Testament, the author of Ecclesiastes emphasizes the importance of considering our mortality: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (7:2). The solace of understanding this on the other side of the cross is that those who trust in Christ will ultimately pass through the valley of death into a life of neverending feasting and joy (Ps. 23; Ps. 16:11). 

Hope amid the horror 

While we dwell in this broken world and weep with those who weep, we must not assume that somehow we are or can be immune to the sufferings that others experience. Mankind’s rebellion against God has resulted in a good world gone bad because of the curse of sin. Our only hope of escaping the curse that sin has brought is for someone to bear the curse for us. This is what Jesus, the Son of God, born of woman, born under the law, does for all who would place their trust in him (Gal. 4:4). And this is the truth we point to as we love others and meet their physical needs in the midst of terrible sorrow. 

Jesus, as the only sinless, innocent, stainless human to ever live, came and took on our sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (1 Cor. 5:21). He bids us to come to him in our grief and under the weight of unbearable burdens (Matt. 11:28). He alone has conquered death, and the precious promise we have is that all who are in him will be raised like him when he returns. It is from this posture of hope amid the horrors of this world that we can face our mortality and come alongside others to minister to them and mourn with them in their darkest moments. 

By / May 23

The tragic reality of those who have been abused, marginalized, and stonewalled by many in the Southern Baptist Convention, as revealed by the Sexual Abuse Task Force report, is cause for deep lament and grief. In the midst of this dark moment, our first response is to cry out to the Lord. He alone can bring the comfort that survivors long for, bring abusers and enablers to perfect justice, and purify his church. Below is a sample prayer that you can use in your individual prayer life or with your church as you cry out for the Lord’s grace and mercy during such a horrific time. 



How long, O Lord, will the wicked succeed? How long will the ones who should be trustworthy, who should protect, bring harm while using your name as a cover? How long will an understanding of you and your Bride be harmed by the wickedness of sexual abuse? How long will the picture of a shepherd that should reflect your perfect justice and love instead be perverted, bringing fear and causing unspeakable trauma?

We are grieving, Lord. We are saddened and angered by the sin that has infected your church and that has been allowed to fester for so long. We lament the betrayal by those who should have been trustworthy. We agonize over the ones who should have been respected, protected, and cherished but have been grievously violated and ignored.

Lord, may you act to protect the vulnerable, cleanse our churches of this heinous sin, and keep the abused safe. May you act to thwart the wicked who uses his power and relationship to harm others. May you bring all injustice and unrighteousness into the light and to account. Break our hearts for what has been exposed and what may not even be known yet. Root out these sins and expose the fullness of the truth to the light. May all see the deception associated with abuse and not fall for the grooming tactics employed by those who are deceivers. May you comfort the afflicted and humble the ones in need of repentance. May you give us a steadfast resolve to hold abusers to account and encourage and walk alongside the abused.

May we step in and fight for the defenseless. May the government rightly bear her sword to judge the ungodly and the abusive. May you grant wisdom and strength to those in leadership to hold abusers and those who enabled it to account. May brothers and sisters step in to protect and care for the afflicted as they reflect your tender love and care for the most vulnerable among us. May your church be a picture of the safety and care that you have for your people.

May the afflicted see they are not alone. May they see you as you are—an ever-present help in trouble and a loving shepherd in the midst of a dark storm. Lord, you are good and active in the midst of this great darkness. Help us, your people, meet all of those affected by these revelations with love, grace, and care. Help us to meet tangible needs and stand beside those made in your image through the long haul. Help us to be faithful. And grant those who have endured abuse courage and strength as they walk this difficult path and seek safety and justice.

Lord, our words are not enough. Our hearts are broken. Sin has now been revealed for all to see. We plead with you to give us repentant hearts and a contrite spirit that will do what’s right, no matter the cost or how long it takes. 

In Jesus’ just and merciful name,


By / Mar 1

We live in an age that values productivity. There is an entire cottage industry of books and resources to help us manage our time, organize our lives, and squeeze every last second out of the day. As a proponent of time management processes (though not always the best adherent), I find these useful tools. However, in our pursuit of doing more, we are often saying with our lives a lie that we would likely never utter with our lips: “I am god, and I am unlimited.” 

However, as theologian and author Kelly Kapic reminds us in his new book, You’re Only Human, our limits and dependencies are a good gift from God, not the result of the brokenness of the world. He was kind enough to join us for an interview to discuss the reality of our limits, our need for rest and humility, and why we struggle to see all of this as an essential and good part of our nature as created image-bearers.  

Alex Ward: Our limitations and finitude are something that you say we often run into through our encounter with the harsher parts of reality — a child’s sickness, an overwhelmed schedule, the loss of a job late in life — rather than an idea and concept that we meditate on as a comfort. Why is it that so often it takes these harsh moments for us to realize our limits?

Kelly Kapic: None of us would call ourselves ‘god,’ but when we start to explore our deepest assumptions and how we approach life, what we often find betrays hidden beliefs: we assume we are or at least should be in control. And that is how we try to conduct our lives. Until there is a serious problem, we tend to assume the problem is something we can solve, and so we just try harder, get more organized, and then we assume the challenge can be overcome.  

But often it is only when things start to fall apart that we realize we can’t make everything all right. As the curtain is lifted, if we have the courage, we start to realize how little we were ‘in control of’ in the first place. And it is during those times we finally start to consider our finitude.

AW: Especially in our current American context where we can have almost anything easily and quickly, why are limits a good thing? How do they help us see God better and our relationship to him? 

KK: Limits are a good thing because God created human creatures, and to be a creature is, by design, to have limits. Finitude doesn’t necessarily imply talk about death: it is just a fancy term that means we are limited by space, time, knowledge, power, etc. In my book, when I am talking about ‘finitude,’ I am talking about these limits. We have a particular body, a particular brain, we come from this family and not that one, we live here and not there, we have these neighbors and not those. All of those particulars situate us, both opening up opportunities for us but also making claims on us, inevitably limiting us in various ways.  

One of my concerns is that Christians have too often confused finitude with sin, and so we start to believe we must overcome all our limits. We feel guilty about our limits, treating them like sins that should be resisted and overcome.  

Without realizing it, this confusion often breeds unhealthy guilt among God’s people when we constantly feel that we should be doing more. Do we allow ourselves to go to bed at night knowing that in our smallness God has been honored and that he delights in us even in our small world? Put differently, does faithfulness require that we sign up for every legitimate volunteer opportunity, or attend every meeting, or give to every noble cause?  

Here is the big surprise: God created us as finite, which means we are made to be dependent.  Healthy dependence or interdependence is part of the good of God’s creation, not the fall. What sin does is distort and undermine healthy dependence, but it did not create it. The fact that we think of the word ‘dependence’ in purely negative terms says a lot about us as a culture and as individuals.  

AW” It’s not uncommon for people to create new schedules or plans at the beginning of the year to try and squeeze more time out of their day, whether that’s because they want to read more, workout more, or just spend more time with family. So how should Christians approach these productivity hacks and attempts to redeem their time? Is it ultimately just a futile quest?

KK: Personally, I love ‘to-do’ lists and ‘time management’ suggestions, but I also think they are dangerously seductive. And I think we need to be asking a different set of questions.

I am arguing that ultimately we are not dealing with a time management problem, but with a theological one. We have misunderstood God, how he created the world, and what he expects of us. Until we deal with this underlying problem, we will always feel exhausted, defeated, guilty, and frustrated. Sadly, the Church often tries to deal with these feelings in the same way as the world, through better “time management.”  

Even the language of ‘managing time’ or ‘organizing time’ often gives us a false sense of control. We can make plans, but actually time is not something we can control or manage. It is not within our power. This is why we — including me — get so easily angry when our perfectly planned productive days go sideways. Part of what happened is we imagined we had more control than we actually did, and until we are more honest about how these assumptions affect us, we won’t address the anger, frustration, and despair that so easily starts to permeate our lives because we are not ‘getting everything done.’

Without launching into a much larger discussion here, I will just give one suggestion: be more realistic. I know, for example, that my ‘to-do’ list for Monday is really not a to-do list for the day but will likely take me a week. When I don’t realize that, it easily produces what one writer calls ‘productivity shame.’ We set ourselves up for failure.  

As Christians, we don’t need to feel guilty about our limits, but we need to have the courage to be more honest about them. And that includes how much time is required by the relationships that God puts into our lives. We can’t do everything, nor does God call us to.  

Similarly, we should ask, in this particular season of life and in this particular place with my particular gifts and limits, what does faithfulness look like for me here and now? Try to be honest with yourself. It will take courage to allow yourself to do less.  

When we add too many things to our schedule and we are driven by productivity as our highest good, then we end up with little margin. And experience tells me that love takes place in those margins. Therefore, as Christians we need to slow down in order that you can be present and able to really love others as God gives opportunity. A test case: love inevitably makes demands, so when opportunities to love arise in our days, do we find ourselves getting bitter and angry inside, or grateful for a chance to care for another person?

AW: We live in a society that prizes individuality and the ability to present the best version of yourself, whether in business or social media or just personal interactions. But you remind us that humility should be central to how Christians interact in the world. Why do we need a theology of humility, especially now?

KK: I believe humility is central to a Christian vision and life. But, as I discuss in the book, I worry that we have too often built our understanding of humility on the foundation of sin, on the idea that we should be humble because we are sinners. While I think our sin does add weight to the call for us to be humble, I don’t think that is a good foundation for humility. And when we build humility on this as the foundation, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get so many unhealthy views of humility.

But biblically, we should be humble simply because this is a realistic recognition that we are limited creatures. Humility is the joyful affirmation of reality, the reality that as creatures we were always made to be dependent upon God, others, and the Earth. Even if there were no sin and fall, humans were to be humble. Humility both fosters worship of our Creator God, and it liberates people to delight in others without always having to compete with them. Humility doesn’t just say “I’m sorry,” but “how should I do this?” and “what do you think?” At its best, humility comes out in sincere questions and gratitude, not self-loathing.

AW: One element of our finitude that seems to create such tension is how we relate to time and the demands of our life. You note a helpful distinction between stress and anxiety. Especially with all the recent studies and reports about the overwhelming sense of anxiety that have been produced by the pandemic and our isolation, how should we think about these concepts? How should we respond to stresses in our lives?

KK: That is a great question. Since I can’t unpack this like I do in the book, I will just say that I think anxiety is often a distorted relationship to time. And so in order to address some of the deeper problems, we have to explore things like expectations. As I explore in the chapter on this topic, I came to believe that the way to navigate this high level of stress and anxiety is through a renewed appreciation for the ancient Hebrew understanding of the “fear of the Lord.” I will just say here, I think at its root this points us to the idea of learning to recognize God’s presence in our lives and in his world. He is always present, but do we recognize him? And I would connect learning to be present with God with learning to be more present with others — and I strongly think one of the reasons we have a rise in anxiety is related to our inability to be truly present with each other, even when we are physically together.

AW: In previous generations, if I wanted to learn something it might have taken weeks or months to get the right books and go through the right coursework, whereas now I can just google an answer. Similarly, I might have needed weeks for a package to arrive and now can have it in a matter of hours if I’m close enough to an Amazon hub. How has this distorted our understanding of the progressive and long-term process of God’s work in our lives?

KK: I think what you describe above is real and it does affect us. And when you put into that situation a Christian who recognizes the sins and weaknesses in our lives, we end up with a potent question: why doesn’t God just instantly change us, since he doesn’t want us to sin?  Behind these questions and concerns is often our sense that God wants us to be perfect immediately. And yet even in the creation narrative, God takes his time. He values process.  One day to the next, things unfold, build upon each other, grow and develop. God has always been comfortable with process, and we need to rediscover the good of process. This can significantly transform our Christian lives and give us a renewed sense of hope and courage. It really is true, he who began a good work in us will continue it to completion. And if he is okay with not instantaneously completing his work in us, then we should not lose heart that our growth often takes time.  

AW: If I’m looking to develop this proper theology of my limits, what are some practical steps that I can take? What is a good place to start? What practices can I build into my life to help with that? 

KK: In the last chapter I suggest four perspectives that can help us return to a healthier relationship with our limits: rhythm, vulnerability, gratitude, and rest. Obviously it takes me a long chapter to unpack these four, but let me just give a sentence or two for each.  

We would do well to learn to honor different seasons of life and adjust our expectations about what faithfulness looks like as we live within the rhythm of each season of life as we go through it. Being 18 is different from being 58, and having a newborn is different from being an empty nester; appreciating the rhythm of decades, years, months, and days can give us a healthier view of opportunities and limits.   

Cultivating an awareness of our vulnerability (which in the book I explain is different from being ‘fragile’) can help us learn to appreciate the healthiness of our dependence upon God, neighbor, and the earth. This helps us grow more comfortable in our relationships, admitting our needs as well as being more ready to offer our gifts for the good of others.

I believe we need to learn both lament and gratitude as expressions of our experience of the world and of our dependence on God in it. We can’t control everything, and so when tragedy, pain, and suffering happen, we should lament. But we can also learn to be grateful, not for evil, but for God’s presence and care which are always active. Rather than pick between lament and gratitude, we need both, sometimes simultaneously. And when we practice them, I think we end up with a healthier relationship to our own finitude and to God.  

Finally, rest. It was fun to talk about a theology of sleep in the book, and why sleeping can be an act of faith. Simply put, we can sleep because God never does. That can be especially hard for us when anxiety swirls all around us. It’s hard for me. I also encourage us to rediscover the joy of a regular day of rest, which is set aside for worship, a different pace, and a release from doing our normal labor. It has become radically countercultural to set aside one day in seven for this kind of rest, but this is fundamental to how God made us. This is not about unthinking conformity to a legal code; instead, God uses our worship and rest to root us more deeply in human flourishing and to give us a vision for life much greater than an endless list of to-dos.

By / Apr 16

He was a professional skier. During a competition he was favored to win, he lost control on the downslope, plunged 30 feet off course, and rolled like tumbleweed down a hill until a tree trunk broke his fall. When paramedics found him, he denied any pain, but repeated over and over, his voice taut with panic, that he couldn’t move his limbs. 

Days later, he lay in an ICU bed with metal screws and rods fixing his spinal column into place. We’d saved his life, but couldn’t save his spinal cord, and he remained paralyzed from the shoulders down. Hour after hour he stared at the ceiling, and when we examined him each morning, he’d answer “yes” or “no,” but said little else. 

Then one day, his nurse motioned for us to talk with her in private. She looked stricken. “I offered to brush his teeth, and he suddenly burst into tears,” she said. “He says everything he cares about is gone, and that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.” 

I am lost 

Although few experiences are as devastating as quadriplegia, outbursts like that of this young man echo in every hospital hallway. When an accident or sudden illness assails us, our first desperate pleas are for our survival, and when we escape with our lives we gush with gratitude. In time, however, the dust settles. We stare dumbfounded at our strange surroundings and realize that the lives through which we once absentmindedly strolled have disintegrated. The images we took for granted have burned up, and the elements of ourselves we most highly prized crumble into ash. 

In such moments we can lose sight of who we are. Severe injuries that leave us disabled not only impair us physically, but also can threaten our understanding of our identity, value, and dignity. 

I remember the lament of a man who survived a stroke, only to sink into despair when he could no longer provide for his family. 

A woman for whom I cared would moan through the night from searing pain in her dying limbs, but refused amputations because she could not fathom life without the freedom to walk. 

Another woman cried in anguish when an operation cured her thyroid cancer, but forever altered her singing voice. 

Such stories highlight that even when we escape a health catastrophe with our lives, every disaster leaves a mark. Some scars so disfigure us that we no longer recognize ourselves, and like Jeremiah stumbling through the ruins of Jerusalem, we cry out, “I am lost” (Lam. 3:54). 

Called out of the darkness

And yet, when we look with dread upon the pieces of our fractured lives, our worth derives from something far more permanent, far more precious than these scattered fragments. Our worth doesn’t derive from our self-reliance, our talents, or our independence. We can’t earn it via anything our trembling hands accomplish. Rather, our worth springs solely, wholly, beautifully, and immutably from Jesus. His blood, for ours. Our renewal, caught up in his. 

Our true and foremost identity has nothing to do with the vigor of our limbs or the keenness of our eyesight and everything to do with the truth that we are image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26), loved by God (John 3:16), and made new through Christ (Rev. 21:5).

Consider the words of Peter:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

In Christ, when God looks upon us, even in our lameness, even when we cannot recognize ourselves, he sees righteousness and holiness, a reflection of his own marvelous light. 

A child of God

One day, after a horrific accident, you may glance in the mirror and struggle to recognize yourself. You may remind yourself that you are a spouse, a mother, or a father. You may remember that you were a lawyer, a teacher, or a bus driver. But first and foremost, remember that in Christ, you are a child of God. Revisit John’s declaration: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; And so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Cleave to this truth if the steps you took for granted decades earlier now feel like labor. Revel in itw hen the person you envisioned yourself to be seems a distant memory. When the days unfold before you like a path plunging into the fog, the destination hazy, and the journey bleak, dare to rejoice that all meager, worldly identifiers shrink before who you are in Christ

As a follower of Christ your identity, now and forever, is as one called out of the darkness into his holy light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). By that light, you conform to the image of God’s Son. By that light, God wraps you in his love. And nothing, not illness or death, not halting speech or a crippled limb, can snuff that light out, or enshroud you from its brilliance (Rom. 8:38–39). 

This article was adapted from Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor’s Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God, Crossway, April 2021.

By / Dec 16

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. 

By / Jul 20

As is often the case in July, my thoughts turn to Christmas. On this occasion, however, I am not thinking about celebrating our newborn King or gathering with family and friends. Instead over the last few weeks, I have been pondering a few dark lines from one of my favorite Christmas songs, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The verses state:

In despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Why do these verses capture my attention right now? Because it is where I have been for the last bit as I see the news around us about the coronavirus: Frustrated. Isolated. Numb. More and more people I know are getting sick as cases balloon in America. Churches can’t meet together. Businesses have closed their doors. Schools are shutting down. It seems all of us are in a dark and lonely moment.

The impact on churches

As a Christian, it is hard to survey the news and developments about the virus and not come away with the impression that COVID-19 is hitting Christians in a particular way because of our call to live in community (Heb. 10:25). 

Based on what we currently understand about this virus and how it spreads through personal contact, most churches have chosen to forego gathering together with local officials issuing requests that they go back to online gathering, upending our crucial weekly biblical rhythm of gathering together as God’s people that we cherish (Heb. 10:25). The act of singing together as the church is precluded in many contexts, inhibiting a vital way many of us express worship toward God (Col 3:16). And we certainly can’t embrace one another physically right now as we welcome friends to church, a sign of support we have for fellow believers (1 Thess. 5:26). Funerals, small groups, and even our church business meetings in many areas have been postponed, delayed, or cancelled. And there is no timeframe for when they will be able to resume again safely.

I am so frustrated beyond description that I cannot wisely do many of these things in this seemingly interminable season. And there is no worldly replacement for them. Online gatherings are helpful, but they never can replace the physical gathering of the body of Christ that I hold dear.

Recently, as my city began reopening, it seemed like in-person worship was about to return to my local church. Plans were painstakingly made. Procedures communicated well in advance based on local health guidance. A soft opening even took place so our church staff and a select few members of the congregation could account for every possible procedure and precaution to keep our people safe. 

My pastor and the ministers on our staff, all dear friends, were brimming with enthusiasm to carefully welcome back our congregation. I was so happy they were going to be able to personally see the flock God has given them the privilege of leading, even if it was behind masks and socially distanced. 

Then, it all came to a grinding halt. 

Like many places around the country, cases of the virus have spiked to record levels in Nashville. Church buildings have closed again. Consequently, all that energy, momentum, and planning was wiped away in an instant. Like David in his darkest moment, I, too, “cry aloud to the Lord, I plead aloud to the Lord for mercy” (Psalm 142:1). 

The virus hits home

And no one, it seems, is immune from this pervasive virus. It affects young and old, Christian and unbeliever alike. Just this week, my father told me we now have several members of our extended family who have contracted the virus because they gathered for a funeral in order to celebrate the homegoing of a beloved grandmother. Now we have a 50-year-old relative, cousins in their 20s, and an eight-month-old child all positive with COVID-19. Again, I cry out with David, “my heart is overcome with dismay” (Psalm 143:4). 

Pastors who are being responsible are even testing positive. I’ve exchanged messages with two in the last week who have coronavirus. These aren’t pastors purposefully leading their people in defiance of local health warnings. These are faithful Southern Baptist shepherds trying to love their church, serve their communities responsibly, and work within the guidance local officials are providing. 

Similarly, I see churches all across our nation who have worked tirelessly for months in places like California now forced to change plans as the virus returns for a second wave there. And all of this is occurring with historic levels of economic distress and cultural strife at the same time. Is any more evidence needed of the “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18) from the fall to show we are in a world that has been shattered by sin?

The sheer exhaustion from all this is almost too much for some to bear, myself included. It would be so easy, even as Christians, to give in to the despair; to add our voices to the outrage; to declare open rebellion against those in authority; to denigrate the experts; and to turn away from the Lord and lash out against our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The hope beyond this virus

But then I return to that Christmas hymn which reminds us: “Then rang the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor does he sleep.” God is still on his throne. That is a freeing thought in a season of social imprisonment and postponed gatherings.

In my mind, the testing of this season and of churches unable to gather is a matter of obedience before the Lord, who seems to be calling us to “love our neighbor” as we sacrifice our desire for the greater good. In so doing, we are called to give up much in this moment. But, we are called to be a people of sacrifice (Luke 9:23-24; Gal. 2:20). And that may mean sacrificing more than just our earthly preferences. For now, it includes many of our weekly rhythms as we seek to grow in Christ and coming together for corporate worship. 

I am convinced the Lord is teaching us something in this season of immense challenge. So, let this be a time when Christians will be known for the goodwill we are spreading and the display of our humble obedience. May it be a time when we are gathering in spirit and solidarity for those made vulnerable by this sickness, and when we are crucifying our inwardly-focused preferences so that others may live and be safe. Above all, may it be a time of transformation, when we mature from being mere hearers to doers of the Word (James 1:22). What sweet joy it will be if this is our testimony as a community coming out of this troubling season—a testimony that will undoubtedly peal louder than a bell in the silence of a cold, clear Christmas morning.

By / Jul 9

As the coronavirus pandemic stretched across the globe, no one could ignore the reality of suffering. But recognizing the reality of suffering is not the same as knowing what to do with our pain, fear, and grief. 

Mark Vroegop has learned, both from his own life and the lives of those he pastors, that the best way to handle our suffering is to turn to God in lament. In his award-winning book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, he shares that after his daughter’s stillborn death, most people did not know how to meet his wife and him in their sadness. Even many of the books he read on grief fell short as they tried to explain the purpose of suffering and the stages of the grieving process, but didn’t tell him what to do with his pain and questions. As he walked a road he would have never chosen, he began to discover “an untapped reservoir of God’s grace” in lament and found that God was redeeming his suffering. Broken into three parts, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy teaches readers how to lament, what we learn from lament, and how to live with lament.

Psalms of lament

Vroegop teaches us how to lament by walking readers through several of the psalms of lament in part one. Most biblical laments have four key elements: an address to God, a complaint, a request, and an expression of trust and praise. We begin our lament by turning toward God in prayer. In our suffering, the resolve to pray is an act of faith. As we lament, there is a tension between the painful reality of our circumstances and who we know God to be. Humble, not angry, complaints reorient our thinking and help us see ourselves and our feelings as we ask God questions. But voicing our complaint is not the ending point. While it is helpful—and even biblical—it alone is not the goal. Our faith should enable us to move on from complaint to bold request. As we request something from God, we can do so in confidence because of who we know God to be.

Learning from Lamentations

But lament is not a magic formula that leads to the end of our suffering; instead, lament will help us draw closer to God as we are honest about our sorrows. Walking through Lamentations in part
two, Vroegop shows how lament is turning to God as we wrestle with our hardships. When we speak from our hearts, we can see the chasm between what we are believing and what is true. As we question God, lament helps us remember what God has done and who he is. Our suffering is a reminder of not just the fallen state of the world, but also our redemption through Christ. Lament helps us process pain while still resting in the truth of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and salvation. 

Practicing lament 

We should learn how to pray in lament, not just for our own souls, but also to minister to others. Part three offers many suggestions for practicing lament personally as well as leading others in lament corporately. In addition to identifying many passages of the Bible where we can study lament, Vroegop also names settings and circumstances where lament is helpful. While this part focuses on the more practical application of lament in the Christian life, it is a reminder that “under the dark clouds of brokenness, God offers mercy” through Jesus Christ. This part is also a reminder of the importance of Christian community. When someone is suffering and has weak faith, our ability to pray with them or for them will help strengthen their faith.

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy does not promise to resolve your problems. But it offers something so much greater than a formulaic quick fix. It offers a reminder of God’s goodness even in our worst times. Instead of lamenting, many choose to bottle their sadness and give God the silent treatment. They feel their prayers are unanswered. We need to learn that lament “invites us to pray boldly even when we are bruised badly.” There are many dark clouds in this life, but the wells of God’s mercy are indeed deep.

By / May 19

Years ago, I preached from Psalm 88. Psalm 88 is a dark psalm with a rather despairing tone. It ends with the psalmist saying that “darkness is his only friend.” I had conversation after conversation with people who told me that the message from Psalm 88 was exactly what they needed to hear. For such a small church, there were dozens of people who felt like the psalmist. They felt overwhelmed by grief and fear. They felt like they were drowning in despair, but they didn’t know that they could turn to God with their trouble. They didn’t even have a vocabulary to communicate their pain. But as one author put it, “God’s Word gave voice to their pain.” 

The people in that small church were not unique in their pain and problems. Journal articles in major health publications attest to the fact that we are living through a time in our society where more and more people are wrestling with depression and despair. With the rise of depression and despair in our society, we are witnessing a decline in life expectancy for the first time in decades for the United States. The phrase “deaths of despair” has been coined to describe the role that depression and despair have played in suicide, drug poisoning, and alcoholic liver diseases. 

In an attempt to address the pain, people are turning to self-destructive practices that are leading to death. Thus, while the language of Psalm 88 might make some people uncomfortable, the reality is that for many people, the psalm resonates with their inmost feelings that they do not know how to express or deal with without being self-destructive or isolating. 

God’s people need to know how to call out to him in their crisis. They need to learn how to lament their situations and circumstances while continuing to live in a broken world. We need to learn how to lament. To help us, I want to draw out four aspects of learning to lament from Psalm 42 that show us how to express our pain, depression, disappointments, despair, fear, and needs to God in a manner that seeks to glorify him while doing good to our soul.

First, when we lament, we should exhibit a desire for God.

Like a deer that pants for water, the psalmist is panting for God (vv. 1-2). He desires God in the midst of his distress. The psalmist compares his need for God to his need for water. He concludes by asking the question, “When can I go and meet with God?” The idea of “meeting with God” in these particular verses means something like “see God face to face.” 

Someone might ask, “Why should we desire God in the midst of our crisis?” Those who know God understand why we should desire God in the midst of our crisis. It is because God alone is able to deliver us. When everything around us is falling apart, God alone is the Rock on which we can stand. He is a sure and steady anchor in the midst of the storm. 

Admittedly, it may take years of maturing in our understanding of the character of God to fully appreciate the psalmist’s desire for God in this midst of crisis. It will take time for us to get to know God better and see him as the trustworthy Father who cares for us in our times of affliction. Yet, the better we know God, the more we will trust him. We will recognize that he alone is able to meet us in our need and to care for us. And as we do, when we lament, we will exhibit a desire for God himself to be near to us.

Second, when we lament, we should maintain a disposition of humility.

Humility acknowledges our desperate need for God to deliver us. Humility is an implication of our prayer. For, if we were not humble, we would not pray, because we tend to pray when we recognize that we need God. If you have ever wondered about how you could grow to pray with greater regularity and affection, then you simply need to recognize how desperately you need God. And when you recognize your desperate need, you will approach God in prayer with a disposition of humility.

Verses 3-4 and 6-10 of Psalm 42 gives us a glimpse of the humility and dependence that the psalmists possess before his God. He recalls the former days when he used to gather with God’s people in the sanctuary, offer sacrifices, and hear the promises of God’s Word. Yet, the psalmist also acknowledges that he is far from that sanctuary. He longs for the day he is able to return. He speaks of the need for God to direct love toward him during the day and his song toward him at night. Then, the psalmist confesses that he responds to God’s mercy toward him, he prays back to God, whom he describes as the “God of my life.” This man is humbly dependent on God, day and night. And we also should maintain this disposition of humble need before God when we lament and ask him to move for us.

Third, when we lament, we should disclose our feelings with honesty.

While the psalmist comes before God with a desire to see him and a disposition of humble dependence, he also comes to God with honesty about how he is feeling. Throughout the whole passage, the psalmist is honest with God. He feels as though “tears have been his food day and night.” He is weary of being mocked by those around him who ask, “Where is your God?” The psalmist confesses that “my soul is downcast and disturbed within me.” At times, the psalmist feels as though he is drowning in grief, pain, discouragement, and despair.

Have you ever felt like that? Like you were treading water in a pool of depression and despair, and that you were starting to lose strength and slip under the water. The psalmist describes it as “the deep calling to deep” in the midst of a “roaring waterfall” with “waves and breakers sweeping over him.”

When everything around us is falling apart, God alone is the Rock on which we can stand. He is a sure and steady anchor in the midst of the storm.

The psalmist even asks the “God, His Rock,” if “He has forgotten.” Have you ever felt like God had forgotten you? The psalmist seems to have felt this feeling in his soul. He asks the Lord why he must “go on mourning under the oppression of his enemy.” As we watch the psalmist wrestling with his own emotions before God, we can almost hear him asking the same question that his critics were asking him, “Where is your God?”

As we learn to lament, we must recognize that honesty before God is an invaluable component. Yes, God knows all things. He knows our feelings. He knows them better than we do. Therefore, there is no need to act like those feelings are not there and be hypocritical before God. We must not treat him the way that we often treat others when it comes to our feelings. Typically, when people ask us, “How are you doing?”, regardless of how we are really doing, we will say something like, “Doing well.” But when we come to God in humble prayer to ask him to meet us in our need, it is as if God is asking us, “How are you doing?” We must honestly disclose our feelings before him, even when we recognize that they are not always right about our situations.

Honesty does not mean that we are justified in feeling the way that we feel about our situations. In other words, while we might tell God, “I’m really upset, mad, even angry with you because of what has happened to me,” that does not mean that we are justified in feeling that way. Instead, it gives us an opportunity to ask God to change our hearts and our affections toward him. We might admit that we are angry, but we do not want to stay angry. We should desire healing and restoration. We, like the psalmist, “desire to see the face of God.”

Finally, when we lament, we should declare our determination to hope.

While the psalmist speaks openly with God about his feelings, he also declares his determination to hope in God. He fully believes that while things are not great at the moment, because God is great, restoration is always right around the corner, even if it doesn’t always fit our timelines. When the psalmist confessed the downcast and disturbed feelings within himself, he also habitually determined to “put hope in God, my savior and my God.” Why? Because he knew the future belonged to God and that he would make all things right in his timing. This is why the psalmist was able to say, “I will yet praise Him.”

As Christians, we know that this hope must be rooted in Christ. Our hope in life and in death rest in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We can have hope in our despair, depression, weakness, struggle, and fear, not because we can overcome these things in our own strength, but because Jesus has overcome this world and is returning for us with the fullness of his redemption coming with him. Jesus makes this clear in John 16:33 when he tells his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome this world.”

What wonderful news. And even though trouble will come in this world, this world will not win. Even as the tears fall, maybe even in this moment, those who hope in God through Jesus Christ “will yet praise him.” As deep as the sorrow and pain may be, if you place your hope in Christ, one day, all the sorrow and pain will be turned to rejoicing. Joy is coming.

Until the day that the joy of God in Christ manifests itself fully, we will weep. We will mourn. We will struggle with pain. We will have sorrow. And while we experience these things, God has called us to humbly seek him, honestly speak to him, and place our hope in him.

By / Mar 25

“I just don’t like Good Friday,” a worship leader once told me, “It’s such a downer. Easter Sunday is so much more fun!”

Most evangelicals are not as honest about their Good Friday reservations, but we should admit that we don’t do lament very well. We like our worship upbeat, celebratory and victorious. I once attended a Good Friday service that resembled more of a junior high pep rally than the historic church holiday remembering the gruesome and unjust death of our Lord.

Christianity is, of course, a story of triumph. The Son of God became flesh, dwelt among his people, yielded to the wrath of the Father on the cross, and defeated sin, death and the grave. Christianity is the story of creation and recreation, rescue and renewal. But when we so quickly rush past the lament of Good Friday, we miss the important telling of the full gospel narrative.

We should pause and mourn death. Death is the fruit of the curse, the work of Satan, the destroyer of men’s souls. All around us we see the rotten fruit of what Satan calls “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26)—murder, disease, war. Death invades our relationships; it crushes our hopes; it corrupts our best years.

Christians exult in Easter’s good news that, because of Christ’s resurrection, death has “no sting” (1 Cor. 15:55). We want to joyfully declare to the unreached that because Jesus suffered for us, we no longer have to fear death because it is merely a doorway for God’s people into eternity with him (1 Cor. 5:8).

Let’s not, however, be so quick to avoid meditating, reflecting and thinking upon death. In one of the most poignant narratives in the gospels, John writes of a visibly troubled Jesus over the passing of his friend, Lazarus (John 11). Jesus wept openly. Jesus was greatly troubled in his spirit. Jesus was angry at death, the work of the enemy.

Christians are often too flippant about death. At funerals, we skip too swiftly to the “but we will see him later” part of our mourning. Yes, we have hope of heaven. Yes, we will see our believing loved ones one day. Yes, we know eternity for them is far better than life in a fallen world.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be outraged, like Jesus was, over the gravity of sin and death. The daily assaults on human dignity, the senseless violence in our world, the ravages of disease upon the human experience–these should break our hearts. There is no sugar-coating death. It’s violent. It’s evil. It’s wicked.

When we refuse to linger over the reality of death, to lament what has been lost by sin, we miss out on the full weight of Calvary and the goodness of Easter. Easter is so good, so triumphant, so joyous and bright and hopeful only because on Good Friday, our Savior hung, naked and bleeding, for his people’s sins. Good Friday is good because there, alone, abandoned, innocent, Jesus defeated that last enemy. It is good because he suffered the full weight of God’s wrath against sin.

We celebrate life because Jesus conquered death. This is why much of the hymnody throughout the ages lingers long and hard here. The road to peace with God doesn’t go around, but through a bloody cross and a wounded Savior.

So, this Good Friday, let’s not rush past the cross. Let’s profess, with the hymnwriter Isaac Watts, the somber weight of the cross:

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.