Late last night I had a moment. My soul was weary. Just thinking more and more about all that is going on in the world, it hit me pretty hard how much "death and suffering" has affected us in both direct and indirect ways in the last three months. I thought of all the people I know who have lost people they love, all the people I know from a distance or from far who have died and all the daily statistics of COVID-19 related deaths and I couldn't help but whisper, "How long O Lord!"
Life in a fallen world sucks. We experience pain, evil and death. I hate death. I hate evil and sin. I hate sin because it brought us death. When Adam and Even disobeyed God in the garden, death was pronounced as a consequence — and we experience the reeling effects of it so regularly. When I was much younger, I determined to never take my hate for death for granted, and never to waste the opportunity to be reminded of my mortality in the deaths of others. Where I come from, this is easy. When one hears of death in a friend, neighbour of family member's household, we drop everything immediately and go to their house and be there — to lament.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)
I have hundreds of memories of sights of men and women lamenting, and throwing themselves on the ground. I have plenty of memories of digging graves at grave-sites for people that I do not even know personally, but because we knew someone they are related to, we show up and help them in their grief by our presence, resources, singing and for the men, digging the grave together at the last site of burial. All the mourning and lamenting together is not only necessary, I dare say it is godly.
Death should hit us the way death should hit us — grievous, sad, sorrowful, sobering, hurtful, angry and devastated. The day we started to muffle these feelings away and explain them through a theological fact, is the day we missed the point. A true theology of the Bible can hold the weight of human sorrow and suffering. In fact, it not only holds it, it encourages lament and honesty with our Father, as a vehicle of true godly reflection, encouragement and hope.
By God's grace, I haven't lost any family member to COVID-19, but not long ago, just as this whole fiasco started, I lost an uncle (my grandma's brother). Just before that, Zimbabweans received the news of the death of Zororo Makamba (a promising young Zimbabwean who had a lot going for him). Literally, the day after that I received news on the unexpected death of a friend who is my age who we was in the same primary school I was in. 16 days later, my wife's grandpa was in hospital for surgery, which in God's kindness went well. But two weeks later, my dad told me that his aunt was terrible sick. In that same week, Pastor Irving Steggels from Birchleigh Baptist passed on. The very next week, we heard our friend lost her grand-dad due to Covid-19. This past week, a lot of sadness surrounded the shooting death of 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by two men while he was running. The very next day, Pastor Darrin Patrick is announced to be dead. All this, happening during a worldwide pandemic, in the year that the great Kobe Bryant died early in January is just too much!
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! (Psalm 44:23)
We should not be surprised though. It is clear from the Scriptures that in this world, we will suffer trouble. We will lament. We will cry. Diseases will hit our mortal bodies. Pestilence is real - we have one that has literally shut down the whole world. Death is real - we have numbers that continue to rise both due to COVID-19 and other causes. Racial and ethnic violence will never go away as long as we are on this side of Genesis 3. All these are true!
Yet, all this should cause us to mourn and lament. We should not be too quick in trying to explain the pain away to ourselves or to others with our systematic theology. Lamenting is simply expressing feelings of sorrow or grief. Over 70 percent of the Psalms are actually laments themselves. And there is no better way to express these than to our God, with each other. I lament the deaths I have had to process in my weary soul of those far and those closer. Kobe Bryant. Zororo Makamba. My homie Gavin Gomwe. My Uncle Sauramba. Irving Steggels. My friend's grandpa. Ahmaud Arbery. Darrin Patrick. (insert your own names here). Cry for them.
I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.
For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life. (Psalm 31:12-13)
Here is where our theology kicks in: we lament to God, asking for his kindness , yet praising Him and trusting Him because of what we know about His person and works. This seems to be pattern in Psalms, and in other places in the Scriptures were lament is shown. We do not hold back how we feel — he already knows it all. And somewhere while we are on it, we also begin to remember that this very God is good. He is kind.
Jesus lived a perfect life, and died the death we deserved. So then, death was defeated on the cross (1 Cor 15:55-56). Those that died and were in Christ will live forever with Him. Our focus now more than ever is to snatch people out of the fire (Jude 23) as we proclaim the good news.
While I may never understand what African Americans go through in America, I stay here now. It scares me that I could possibly fall victim to violence on the basis of how I look, and it frankly disgusts me when those real fears and feelings are minimised for anyone, by anyone. Thankful for all the friends and family from back home who reached out to check in about my emotions around that. Yet, someday justice shall be restored fully. Been doing a lot of preparation in the Book of Nahum and it is clear from there that God will reign terror on evil doers, and we see how in the end, all the systems in the world that seem powerful will be a laughing stock when true justice and judgement comes.
There is no easing your hurt;
your wound is grievous.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands over you.
Forupon whom has not come
your unceasing evil? (Nahum 3:19)
Thanks be to God that we shall forever exist in a world where evil and death will have no reign!