I don’t really know how to go about saying this. Do I start in the now, and work backwards? Begin at the beginning (which, I’m told, is a very good place to start) and work towards the present? And you also have to remember that I’m woefully under-qualified to talk about many things. But have I ever let that stop me before?

This has been building in me for the past year and a half – but I don’t think that I even glimpsed the root of my unsettled feeling that something was not right until recently.

God, let your justice roll…

As most (all?) of you know, a year and a half ago I moved into one of the favelas (impoverished slum communities) of Rio de Janeiro called Manguinhos. Life moved from the ordinary and mundane to the surreal and extraordinary. I was exposed to new levels of poverty, violence, fear, and despair. There were pockets of joy, hope, and grace, but the darkness shrouded the light like never before.

God, let your justice roll…

The day-to-day reality of the lives of my friends on the street began to sink in. At times I battled with hopelessness and depression. I couldn’t see hope, and I couldn’t offer what I didn’t have. The funerals started – drug overdoses, robberies that went bad, murders, ambushes. Friends left town, moved home, moved on. The brightest lights and my closest friends were buried, disappeared, lost touch with.

God, let your justice roll…

I would hear from friends working from the other broken places of the world – the brothels of Calcutta, the amputee camps of Sierra Leonne, the earthquake victims of Pakistan, the tsunami survivors from Sri Lanka, those afflicted with AIDS in Mozambique and South Africa, the refugee camps in Darfur.

God, let your justice roll…

My heart was leaden and full of questions – Where was God? How to reconcile the brokenness of our world with the promises of Scripture? How to worship a God who calls himself “good” in the midst of so much pain and suffering? The songs I knew to sing, the prayers I knew to pray, didn’t seem to fit on the streets. What are the songs the women can sing as the bombs fall around, and the bullets fly by? What songs can be sung by those who are hungry and cold and afraid? What do those who are in slavery and bondage cry out that is not trite and meaningless? What words can give them hope?

God, let your justice roll…

There didn’t seem to be any answers – as I traveled around the US and went from church to church, I couldn’t find answers. Songs of joy and peace, of God’s goodness and protection and blessing, didn’t seem to ring true.

God, let your justice roll…

I guess what I’m trying to say is, what do you do when your songs and prayers don’t seem to match up w/ the world outside? Where are the songs and prayers of mourning and lament that figure into the Psalms so much – and where do I go to get perspective?

God, let your justice roll…

Maybe I should just write my own…

God, let your justice roll…

Maybe I should use my voice to cry out for those who have no voice…

God, let your justice roll…

Maybe I should simply be silent, and let those who truly have cause to lament do so – simply add my silence, my tears, and my presence to their cries for justice, for peace, for healing…

God, let your justice roll…

I don’t know. I know this is woefully incomplete and generic. I don’t have any answers. I don’t even know if this makes sense to anyone outside my silly little head. But I do know we need to be asking these questions. Let’s ask them together. Please?

Oh God, let your justice roll…



Filed under favela, food for thought, hunger, injustice, justice, prayer, tears, worship

6 responses to “Lament

  1. Emily

    Ben–thank you for sharing your heart’s cry…thank you for perfectly expressing those questions and burdens many of us can never put to words…hope you are well, friend.

  2. Sarah

    hey there — you don’t know me, but i came across your blog through the addison road website. my heart has been feeling these things (although, much to my own dismay, from the comfort of East Texas) for a while now. many times i don’t know how to explain what i’m thinking and feeling to others, so reading your words and sensing the passion behind them brought a sort of … well, heaviness, really, to my soul. but it’s a heaviness in the knowledge that while there are so many people who are hurting, and the issues and problems and logistics are impossible to comprehend fully, that there are others half a world away that feel things that i feel.

    i hope that God will fill you with his strength today – and that those pockets of joy will begin to be less sparse.

  3. Sarah

    ps…nice pictures on flickr! a little bit of post-work boredom led to me clicking through them – hope you don’t mind! 🙂 i’m a bit of a budding photographer myself & i enjoyed seeing some good work!

  4. Aaron

    My dear friend Ben,

    I felt the need to say something here, but I know as I begin that this will not be entirely satisfying. I hope and pray, however, that God will use what I say to draw your focus to Himself as King of kings and Lord of lords.

    I think that there is a tendency, particularly among American Evangelicals, to take salvation for granted. We tend to view salvation as such a sure thing that our sense of good and evil, of justice and injustice, of God’s nature, and of what people deserve become corrupted. God’s mercy is truly extraordinary in the sense that it is beyond the ordinary. The human heart is desperately wicked, and every one of us is deserving of all the pain and suffering the world has to offer and more. No amount of ‘goodness’ can ever overcome that. It would be absolutely good and just of God to send every human to hell for our rebellion against His perfect character. But He chose to show mercy to those whom He calls His own, and the resulting hope, peace, and life that results from His mercy is beyond compare. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).” Sin, pain, cruelty, death, and loss are all results of sin in the world and are brought about by man’s rebellion against God who is infinitely holy. The fact that they exist should not be surprising. What should be surprising is the fact that the infinitely holy God who you and I were once completely opposed to in our sin has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).” Remember, my friend, that ours is a hope that cannot be taken from us because it rests on the goodness or promise of a man. Our hope is not in a happy life on earth, nor is it in our chances of seeing the suffering of our friends eased. Instead it is the promise of unending peace with God through the work of His Son who suffered and died on our behalf and who was raised from the dead to prove that God’s wrath against us has been satisfied. Rejoice with me in these words from Paul: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).”

    One more thing I would like to add… I know that God places things in our paths to prepare us for other places He will take us. I was reminded the other day as I was thinking about you of the encouragement that you were to me after we had left Peru. I had been struggling with the transition to the US, thinking that I had been given too much to handle. At the peak of that struggle I spent a weekend with you in Chicago, where I was blown away by the growth I saw in you, and you had been through so much more than I had. I know that God taught you a lot about His goodness and His faithfulness following August 1997, and I want to encourage you to remember His faithfulness. Look back over the years, and remember the ways He has proved His love.

    Our God is good.


  5. sarah

    Hey Ben,
    I appreciate your post. I have struggled with some similar stuff and have recently been reading Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God. He certainly doesn’t claim to have it all figured out and is very real about his struggles with trusting God. At the same time, he offers some great thoughts that have been helpful and points to some helpful stuff from people like CS Lewis. I’m guessing you may have already read it, since I know you love to read. But thought I’d mention it anyway.
    Blessings on you brother. I know that your heart of compassion for others is a reflection of His even deeper incomprehensible compassion for the world. Thanks for loving deeply and being real about the painful doubts and questions that we humans feel.

    • Ben

      Thanks Sarah –

      =) Love hearing your thoughts… Know you, Kirk, and the boys are in thoughts and prayers as you come to mind… And yes, Yancey’s great. Love what he has brought to the table… and one of the things that I LOVE about my church community here in Chicago is that they make space for lament, for sorrow, for rejoicing in the midst of and in spite of suffering and tragedy, not ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t happen, or it isn’t really real, or that it’s really just a hidden good… =)

      Thankful for friends, brothers and sisters all over the world, and for people who struggle to love well in spite of the questions, and maybe even because of the questions… =)

      Much love…

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