The murder of George Floyd has exposed our shallow understanding of biblical lament.
Over the past month, and especially in the past two weeks, injustice and evil have confronted us through the brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
I watched those videos and my stomach turned over. My body viscerally responded to the evil I watched unfold on a screen. I shut off my phone and paced in my living room. Shock turned to rage turned to pain as tears spilled over. And as I worked to process what I had seen, to form some type of response, I felt paralyzed by the evil I witnessed and the emotional chaos that ensued.
Since that morning, I’ve been confronting those emotions and the vile sin of racism in my own heart and my own nation. There has been a flood of online and in-person conversations, protests across the nation and a worldwide demand for justice and change.
I’ve sat before the Lord repenting of racism individually and corporately, and I’ve tried to ask the hard questions about where my community and sphere of influence have been complicit. I protested and yelled, “No justice, no peace.” These are things I know are long overdue and are integral parts of being a follower of Jesus.
And though I’m ashamed to say it, I must admit my heart has grown weary in these two weeks.
Maybe if you’re a white Christian genuinely trying to engage racism in your own life and community, you feel that weariness.
Truly, there is an emotional toll of confronting our own brokenness and the sin in our nation. Rage, empathy, pain, and desperation are taxing.
But, looking in the mirror, I realized something.
White Christians like me have a shallow & under-developed capacity for lament.
As a white, upper-middle class college student attending a great college, I confess my under-developed ability and willingness to lament. If I’m honest, there are few experiences in my life that have moved me to a place of desperation, of wrestling with God and crying out for His justice.
Being white has shielded me from the very real, very traumatizing pain and destruction of racism. And if your skin looks like mine, you have experienced that same privilege.
This isn’t a trick to evoke “white guilt”. It’s simply being honest about how lament has never been forced to run very deep for me and for us as white Christians, by and large.
Lament in the Bible
When I read my Bible, I see a stark contrast between my own lament and biblical lament. Namely, where I find a lack of lament in my own life and in my white Christian community, I see an abundance of lament in our Bible.
Our Bible includes a book literally named Lamentations, and one of our famous prophets — Jeremiah — was dubbed “the weeping prophet”. Nehemiah’s prayers of repentance over his nation’s corporate past and present wickedness drip with lament. Need I mention the numerous psalms that cry out for justice, for revenge and for rescue?
And though our Bible is filled with lament, of staring brokenness and sin in the face and not moving on, I am hard-pressed to see that mirrored in my life and my community.
We Missed It
Somehow, fellow white Christians, we missed it. We don’t have songs to sing in the waiting, in the dark night, in lament. We don’t have a developed language to lament well with each other, either individually or corporately. We are quick to remind each other that “Jesus wins!”, but we are rather reluctant to weep together as we cling to the truth of “God with us”.
Instead of practicing lament, a tendency toward triumphalism has taught us to look away from pain, to suffocate our doubts and our “un-Christian” emotions.
This has robbed us of seeing the full beauty of the Gospel’s redemption of the darkest places, and it has marred our Christian witness.
I’ve failed to practice lament faithfully, and I know I’m not the only one. It’s time to turn our guilt into responsibility and a desire to learn better.
One thing I know is that while I have not been faithful in lament, the black community has been. History tells us of enslaved Africans who sang heart-wrenching spirituals pleading with God for righteous judgment, for justice, for rescue and for protection. That biblical language of lament has marked the black community, and we as white Christians must take notes.
Even as we learn from the black community’s faithfulness in lament, we should be struck by how much deeper their weariness, exhaustion and pain is than our own. If we are tired after two weeks, how tired must generations of black Americans be?
May we adjust our posture and perspective accordingly.
Lament is not easy, nor is it quick.
Yet, we see in the Bible that God’s people are marked by a commitment to confronting brokenness and pain in the presence of God, believing He is big enough to handle it.
Lament means we engage with intentionality and humility, that we weep over injustice, and that we repent — both individually and corporately. It means we seek to understand the history of oppression of black Americans and people of color, as well as where it continues today. Lament means digging in our heels for the long haul to affect real change, not just when it’s the convenient or popular thing to do. It means having honest conversations with our families, roommates, co-workers, fellow congregants and pastors.
To practice lament is to live lives holding the weight of sin while clinging to the hope of redemption and justice in Jesus.
White Christians, I understand we are weary. But I am convicted that we are weary because we do not know how to biblically lament.
My prayer is that rather than growing weary, we would confess where we have not faithfully practiced lament.
Starting with me, I pray we would turn from our privileged tendency to disengage and instead find perseverance in the enduring hope of the cross and God’s promise of redemption.
He has promised to forgive us when we repent, and I pray that grace would bend our hearts towards righteousness.
Fellow white Christians, may we be found faithful, and “let us not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9).
Thank you so much for reading!
My hope is that you might be encouraged & challenged, and that these pieces might spark life-giving conversations. I would love to hear from you and connect, so shoot me a message on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, or leave a response to this piece.