I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, God’s merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst.
—Lamentations 3:19-23, 30
Beginning with the confession that our culture of triumph and victory may not be very familiar with the voice found in Lamentations, we can better embrace the wisdom that it holds. Lamentations is a post-conventional wisdom writing—which sounds like exactly what it means.
There are times when conventional wisdom will do—the times when all we need to make sense of our world or get through our day is a quote from our favorite author, a song from our favorite artist, or a verse from Proverbs. Such times are conventional times.
Then there are times when our conventional wisdom and thinking just does not help. In fact, when our lives move beyond convention, applying the quotes, songs, or scriptures of convention can actually hurt us and confuse us even more. In short, post-conventional times call for post-conventional wisdom. We need a voice that sounds like how we feel—a voice that knows from experience exactly where we are.
The Hebrew Bible contains several post-conventional writings—Lamentations among them.
We need to be where we are in this. It is uncomfortable.
It is tragic. It is depressing. It is scary. Feelings of anger and fear, anxiety and grief, torment and bitterness are all appropriate. To run from these feelings or try to cover them up with a bit of conventional wisdom or a quote like, “the LORD works in mysterious ways,” dismisses and dishonors what actually needs to be validated and felt.
The writers of Lamentations—in fact, all the writers of the biblical texts—experientially understood this truth. They were no strangers to existing in post-conventional circumstances and times. Their voices are not the voices of the triumphant superpower that knows victory. Theirs are the voices of the small remnant that refused to let go—the tribe that possessed what Emil Fackenheim termed “middrashic stubbornness.”
The voice of middrashic stubbornness looks at the unfolding story and honors and accepts the pain and discomfort of the present. In fact, it dwells there—in the knowledge that the last word has not yet been spoken. This post-conventional voice doesn’t hide from the pain, try to explain it away, or smooth it over. This voice declares in anguish the reality of the present chapter while also proclaiming the story will not end here.
Scholar and theologian N.T. Wright once surmised that the apostle Paul would have defined faith as stating, “Wherever this goes, I’m with you.” When we have faith in something, that is what we declare. “Wherever this goes, I’m with you.” That sounds like a post-conventional statement. It sounds like middrashic stubbornness. It sounds like someone who knows just what it’s like to feel what we feel and hurt how we hurt.
We can say these words to the God of our understanding as an act of faith.
We can say these words to each other as an act of faith.
And as we listen, may we hear the One who has always declared these words to us—without ceasing.
Wherever this goes, I’m with you.
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