Why would Jesus weep when he knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? He allowed himself to be impacted by the pain of the family he loved. If Jesus wept when he saw the pain of people he loved, even though he knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, then you and I can lament over the pain of past and present racism, even though we know that we will all be reconciled before the throne of God in Heaven.
What do I mean when I talk about lament in the racial reconciliation context? God created all people in His image and intended for each of us to be in an intimate connection with Him and each other, but because of sin our relationship with God and each other has been strained. America’s history of race is a painful demonstration of our sinful fall from God’s design for us to be in relationship with Him and each other. It brings me even more sadness to see the role the church actively and passively played in compromising God’s relational design (read The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby for a historical account of this). Just as Adam’s sin has left an indelible mark on all of humanity, so the sin of slavery and racism has left an indelible mark on race relations. Minorities are the primary recipients of the vileness of racism, but make no mistake about it—we all bear the scars of past and present racism. The fact that my nation and people who claimed to be followers of Christ participated, and at times still perpetuate shades of this ideology, moves my soul to lament.
The experience and process of lamenting together forges a deeply felt bond. Those who share in our pain are usually the ones to whom we feel closest. Forgiveness is most deeply felt when both sides fully acknowledge the depth of the offense and commit to caring for each other in the process of healing. If we try to skip lament and rush to the forgiveness, we neglect the process that builds the bond and trust. We grow closest to the people we go through hardship with. But of course, no one wants to lament. Our culture is built on achieving of a convenient pain-free life. So why would someone from the majority culture want to enter into a pain they feel they have no responsibility for? Why should I, as someone from the minority culture, care at all about white people’s shame or guilt when I try to talk about race?
Lament is a deeply felt sense that encompasses your whole being, and this felt experience moves us into vulnerable connection to find comfort and healing. This is what happened when Jesus saw the sadness of the people mourning for Lazarus. He wept even though he was about to raise Lazarus. Lament and the hope of the Gospel are congruent with each other. We lament because of brokenness while we also rejoice because the gospel can reconcile us with God and each other. We lament because the fullness of the Gospel has not been fully lived out, and lament moves us to press for God’s full healing in regard to the sin of racism.
As a therapist, the majority of my day is spent helping people in relational distress. It is hard work because we all have longings to connect with one another, but we also have powerful fears of vulnerability that move us to put more effort into protecting our sense of self instead of pursing vulnerable connection with one another. I see the process where these same powerful fears of vulnerability replay out in the dysfunctional attempts to talk about race reconciliation. It makes sense that the discussion of race is laden with emotional landmines such as pain, anger, fear, guilt, shame, betrayal, and disappointment. However, these painful emotions are not the enemy in the process; the way we try to handle these emotions is the actual issue. To reconcile, we have to be able to enter vulnerably into one another’s pain and fears. We have to be able to lament together, and I cannot say I have seen this happen in the church. Lament moves past rhetoric and bring us together so we can lament and heal from the pain together. But when handled wrong, we actually end up perpetuating the collective pain of America’s racial history and driving the wedge between us deeper.
Why is lament so necessary? Because it is a sacred experience when we share together in one another’s pain and healing. To be with someone in their emotional pain means you are willing to allow their emotional pain to be experienced in your own body as well, and that is a step that is hard for many, because in our insecurity we usually move first to avoid the emotional pain in ourselves and in others and this leaves us stuck and disconnected, but Jesus moves towards pain to bring healing.