Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Cry With Me

I added another book to the pile of quiet time fodder on the coffee table last week. My time with God in the morning is no longer a quick snack but becoming a five course banquet.

“A Prayer in the Life” by James Whitbourn came out of an invitation to 65 famous celebrities sharing a favourite prayer and a time in their life that it relates to. As ever with famous celebrities that are plenty of strangers among them. My own list of celebrities would be very different.

The book kicks off with the Marchioness of Aberdeen, and Haddo House and the Haddo House Choral and Operatic Society – not a household name or place or society to me.

June talks about the death of her husband who she loved deeply.  She went for long walks and railed at God about the unfairness of it all. She reached a stage of acceptance and serenity. She went on to say that the face she presented to the world was “high hearted happiness and good courage”.  She believed it was important to show people that they could weather the storms and carry on in the face of difficulty.

“If I am feeling low, I shut myself away.  That’s always been my motto.  And right at the beginning, when I was totally devastated and the whole of my life was shattered, I never wept in public.  I used to go and cry alone, because I think tears are very private things.”

I am not sure that I agree with her, entirely. I am not sure that crying alone is the best thing to do, or even that tears are very private things.

As part of the Lent poems I was supposed to write a poem about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. I am on to it.

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19v41-44

Weeping in Jesus’ time was a social thing.  Tears were meant to be seen. Empathy and support were meant to be elicited from a watching crowd. Tears were expression of  attatchement and a confirmation of a social bond. You can work out what it meant to stay dry eyed.

People preparing for funeral of loved ones would hire keening women.  They were professional weepers whose job was to simply get people to cry.  It was a skill that older women passed on to the younger women. Perhaps that is what is wrong with our society today – we avoid weeping.  Like the Marchioness of Aberdeen “we never weep in public.”

In the Old Testament when God weeps it is more than empathy or support He is looking for. Some people don’t like the idea of God weeping at all – they want their God to be invulnerable.  Besides, it’s a poetic contrivance anyway to suggest that God weeps anyway as He is spirit.

In the book of Jeremiah, God weeps because He is on the verge of losing His son, Israel. He loves Israel and they are on the verge of exile. God weep because of His love, but He weeps too because He is agent of Israel’s exile. He cannot leave their idolatry unpunished, but it hurts Him to punish them. I wonder if this is what all parents feel – the need to discipline and the hurt it causes not just the child to punish, but also themselves. That’s probably why some children are left to run wild because their parents don’t want the pain that inflicting punishment brings.

When God weeps, He wasn’t to get more than sympathy and comfort.  He want people to realise that they are causing His tears. He wants people to acknowledge their part in His tears. He wishes to move people towards repentance and restoration. They should soothe His tears by changing their behaviour and taking away the exile that is coming.  There is a detachment of God from His people that came as He prepared to punish them, a withdrawing of his help and support. He is instructions for Jeremiah were to “not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy.”

Jesus, when He wept over Jerusalem, perhaps it was also more than a request for sympathy and soothing.  God in human flesh, He want people to acknowledge their part in His tears, to move towards repentance and restoration. He wanted them to weep with Him.

Jeremiah 8v18 reads “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me” and later in v22 “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” Just as nation had no peace then, Jesus was saying that there would be no peace now. In putting to death the Prince of Peace, peace was hidden from their eyes. For Jesus it was not a taking away of peace, or love or of mercy. It was a restoring of all those things. People had chosen to turn away from them, convinced that their own brand was far better, less costly, distributed to others on their own terms.

I think we all need to cry a lot more in the presence of God – to cry with Him.  

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