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Lamentations and the silence of God

October 7th, 2007 by isaac · 1 Comment

Lamentations… It’s a difficult piece of the Bible to preach. But in my preparation, I read a bit of Kathleen M. O’Connor’s book, Lamentations and the Tears of the World (2002). I think it’s a must read for anyone trying to hear how the gospel breaks through that text.  Below is a striking passage that gets to the heart of Lamentations: the silence of God. Unlike Job, the laments of the book don’t pay off with a visitation with God at the end. There’ s no easy resolution. O’Connor captures how Lamentation, as a text of brokenness, invites us to consider the power of God’s silence.

Across the poems, speakers direct our eyes and hope toward the deity; they long for God sorrowfully, angrily, and despairingly. They play upon readers’ longings for comfort, for explanation, for even the slightest response. Their pleas open a space for divine response, but God never comes into the emptiness. Instead, the space remains vacant and opaque, leaving a well of unrealized longing…. The silence of God in Lamentations is inspired. By this I mean it shows a brilliant restraint that breathes power into the book… No matter what God said, Lamentations would come to premature resolution, and the book’s capacity to house sorrow would dissipate. Any words from God would endanger human voices. They would undercut anger and despair, foreshorten protest, and give the audience only a passing glimpse of the real terror of their condition. Divine speaking would trump all speech.... The missing voice of God leaves suffering exposed. In the language of poet Nelly Sachs, it creates an opening between ‘the rocks of yesterday and tomorrow, held apart like the rims of a wound.’ God’s silence in Lamentations leaves wounds festering, open to the air and possibly to healing. The benefit of exposed wounds is that they become visible and unavoidable. Left exposed, they require us to see, acknowledge, and attend to them, and then perhaps there can be energy to attend to the wounds of the world. (pp. 84-86)

Tags: sermons · theology

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Jason // Oct 26, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Glad you posted this quote. It put words to something of what I was feeling when Lamentations came up in the lectionary a few days ago. The reading (ch. 1) felt so raw and, yes, so incomplete. And maybe if God can dare to remain silent in the face of sorrows poured out it is a good indication that it is ok, maybe even beneficial, for us to remain silent when someone else tells us of their suffering. For a time, anyhow. Eventually God does enter into the void, into our void.