A few years ago a brother from our church rushed into the church office on a weekday lunchtime and said, “There are two kids in the bushes right outside having sex!”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“I’m not making this up. When I passed by the front of the church, there was a boy and girl having sex behind a bush!”
With our building located next to a high school hundreds of students passed through our property everyday on their way home or stayed to hang out on our lawn. We relished the opportunities that our proximity gave us to share God’s love with kids over pizza, music, and skate ramps. Of course there were boatloads of difficulties that went with the privilege, all of which were a small price to pay to be able to show and share good news with such young hearts. The most common inconveniences were relentless graffiti, piles of garbage, clouds of pot smoke wafting into the office windows, along with the occasional teenage brawl in the parking lot. Copulating in the bushes was a whole other level of disruption of our daily office routine!
As shocked as I was about the situation, what took me most by surprise was my initial visceral reaction. As we arrived outside to confront the kids, which had already fled the scene of the crime, tears came to my eyes. I stood there and cried. Weird, huh?
All I could think of was how sad it was that these two children could’ve so lost their way. How could their moral compass get so damaged that in broad daylight next to a place of worship and ten yards away from a busy street, that they would trample on their innocence. How tragic that anyone of any age could get that estranged from God and indifferent to his healthy, holy ways! All I could do was stand there and cry for the sadness of it.
Sure, eventually I got angry, but not so much with the kids themselves, but with the collaboration between sin, Satan, and the system of the world that so thoroughly corrupts such young minds. We went on to report it to the campus police, which is tragic in itself that schools need police in the first place! But my first reaction was tears.
I had a similar reaction in my gut following Sunday’s shooting in Orlando. Fifty divine image bearers gone! How appalling! How gut-punching sad!
It goes without saying that justice must be served against perpetrators of crimes against humanity and prevention from such atrocities committed by demonized and delusional killers must be found. But for the Christian, tears come first. When someone hates “the others” so much they open fire in a public place to kill as many as possible, for the person who loves Jesus, lament is the initial and indispensable posture. The criminal justice system must take immediate action while the pundits and the public debate preventative measures, but for Jesus’ disciples, tears come first.
What kind of tears are we talking about here? Please don’t assume that you know where I’m going with this. It’s at this point that many of us stop short of a biblical lament.
We weep for those who lost their lives and those who loved them – no surprise there. That’s where they begin, but that’s not where the Christian’s tears end. Of course we feel empathy for the victims and their families. You don’t have to be a believer in Jesus to feel that ache in your heart for man’s inhumanity to man (and woman and child). Atheists and agnostics are capable of that same sorrow for the bereaved.
But in the face of such atrocious behavior between divine image bearers we’re capable of and must engage in an even more profound level of sorrow. When this world is not what it should be we must join the Weeper of Heaven in his grief. It seems to me that we know how to “weep with those who weep” but we’ve lost the sense of weeping with Him Who weeps over the wreckage of the world for which Jesus died. How far we are from the Creator’s intended ideal when we’ve left him to weep alone!
The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. . . . He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. Romans 8 (The Message)
How much of his anguish do we feel over our out-of-control world? His Spirit “groans” over how far we’ve strayed. Even “creation” knows to groan. Are we willing to feel what he feels and make it a three-part harmony?
Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. James 1 (The Message)
Of course terrorism, abortion, racism, and injustice of every sort should make us angry! But when anger is our first reaction and we rush at the opportunity to politicize about guns, Muslims, immigration, the failures of the FBI… we miss something from God’s heart that he wants us to experience
We can’t expect to be like him if we constantly skip weeping with Him Who weeps. Ranting over the evil of the world and rushing headlong into punishment mode may make us feel powerful but it actually reveals our spiritual childishness. Weeping with him is our admission that we don’t have any quick fix to an absurdly violent and hate-filled world. No amount of intelligent people working together, no politician or party, no innovation of science can hold back the tide of our sin against one another.
Can an African change skin? Can a leopard get rid of its spots? So what are the odds on you doing good, you who are so long-practiced in evil? Jeremiah 13:23 (The Message)
Like Performance Enhancing Drugs may make you stronger today, but tomorrow will damage you more than improve you. Anger not lubricated with tears, in the end, does more harm than good.
The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, was pacing back and forth late one night when his son woke up and asked him what he was doing. “Ah, Bramwell,” he said, “I’m thinking about the people’s sin. What will people do with their sin?”
Are you angry about what’s wrong with the world? So is God. But first he weeps. When did you last weep with him?