INTERSECT: Shame on You, Part 2
Psalm 69 ties the concept of shame to the context of suffering. The passage records the lament of the psalmist when he faced unspecified affliction. As we peer into the inner struggles of the psalmist in crisis, we identify three particular areas in his psalm. We examined the first, the reality of suffering, in the December-January issue. In this column, we turn our attention toward the final two: the need for lament and the concern for communal shame.
The Need for Lament
Lament is a necessary component of the Christian life. This does not mean the Christian life is unnecessarily morbid, but it does mean Christians must be realistic. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes it this way: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Most times, emotional pain and turmoil cannot be readily explained but inevitably draw us near to God. That is what lament is all about. It is what we find the psalmist doing here, crying out to God for answers; he seeks the Lord for comfort; he desires rescue.
When we neglect lament in the Christian life, we are dishonest. When we ignore our own pain or the pains of others, we fail to live in the true light of God’s glorious redemption of our lives. God intends to redeem us in (not from) our pains and turmoil.
The Concern for Communal Shame
We must consider, however, a rightly directed lament, and a wrongly directed lament. The right kind of lament is exerted in humility. In one breath, the psalmist seems to state his innocence, but in the next he speaks of his own sinful shortcomings: “O God, you know my folly, and my wrongdoings cannot be hidden from you” (verse 5).
The psalmist is willing to acknowledge his sinfulness, even as he faces “those who hate me without cause” (verse 4). The right kind of lament always leads to greater humility and dependence upon God rather than self-vindication. True lament allows us to trust God’s justice and wait upon Him to deliver us according to His perfect will.
Our lament is not just an individual issue, even though our experience of suffering comes on the individual level. Suffering carries a corporate dimension as well, as the psalmist verbalizes in verse 6.
Our suffering has the potential to do one of two things: 1) bring shame to God and others, or
2) bring glory to God and others. This comes as a direct result of the psalmist’s acknowledgment of potential wrongdoing (verse 5). Again, C.S. Lewis describes these potential outcomes of suffering: “For you will certainly carry out God's purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”
How will you choose to handle struggles, fears, and pains? Will stress and suffering bring shame on those who wait on the Lord, or will it bring honor? Will we bring shame on the Lord, or will we honor Him through our suffering?
About the Columnist: Matthew McAffee is provost and professor of biblical studies at Welch College: firstname.lastname@example.org.