Keller is ready to discuss “ . . . the individual ways or strategies that the Bible lays out for walking through suffering” (p. 240). The first: “Weeping”.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF LAMENT
Early Reformers frowned on Christians weeping. They should trust God through “unflinching, joyful acceptance of his will” in suffering (p. 241).
But, Keller notes, their teaching doesn’t square with Scripture. Many Psalms are called “Lament Psalms”—prayers which express frustration with or sorrow before God.
“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?” (Psalm 44:23).
“Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Psalm 89:49).
Jeremiah prays . . .
“Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive book, like a spring that fails” (Jeremiah 15:18).
In Job’s last chapter he admits his faith wasn’t what it should have been, yet the text says, “In all this Job sinned not” (Job 1:22).
By the book’s middle, Job curses the day he was born and almost angrily charges God with injustice. Yet hear God’s verdict on Job . . .
“I will accept [my servant Job’s] prayer . . . You (Job’s ‘friends’) have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7-9).
This despite, as Keller writes, “Job’s grief was expressed with powerful emotion and soaring rhetoric. He did not ‘make nice’ with God, praying politely” (p. 242).
Surely, then, we are allowed to grieve.
A BRUISED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK
Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant, who is Jesus (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20; Acts 8:32,33). Applied to a person, Keller says, “ . . . ‘bruised’ means an injury that doesn’t show on the surface, but that is nonetheless fatal . . . Jesus Christ is attracted to hopeless cases. He cares for the fragile” (p. 243).
Elijah was a mighty prophet against whom the people turned. Despondent, he travels to the wilderness and prays, “Take my life. I don’t even want to live” (1 Kings 19:4). Does God condemn him? No. He sends an angel who cooks him a meal. “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (1 Kings 19:4-8). Eventually God talks with Elijah, questions and challenges him. God, says Keller, know we are complex creatures. In this case, to have challenged Elijah first would have been breaking a bruised reed.
In The Bruised Reed and a Smoking Flax, the 27 century British Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote, “Never fear to go to God, since [we have] a mediator with him [who] “died that he might heal our souls with the medicine of his own blood . . . Let this keep us up when we feel ourselves bruised” (p. 245).
“The point,” Keller says is this—suffering people need to be able to weep and pour out their hearts, and not to immediately be shut down by being told what to do. Nor should we do that to ourselves . . . “ (p. 245).
WEEPING IN THE DARK
Psalm 88, writes commentator Derek Kidner of Psalm 88, “There is no sadder prayer in the Psalter” (p. 246). Unlike all other lament psalms (except 39), Psalm 88 end without a glimmer of hope. (No space to quote it here; grab a Bible and read it!). From the psalm, Keller draws three lessons.
One, as the psalm’s word implies, “believer can stay in darkness for a long time” (p. 247).
Two, “times of darkness . . . can reveal God’s grace in new depths” (p. 248). God’s treatment of Job “shows that God remains this man’s God not because the man puts on a happy face and controls all his emotions, but because of grace.
Third, “it is perhaps when we are still in unrelenting darkness that we have the greatest opportunity to defeat the forces of evil. In the darkness we have a choice that is not really there in better times. We can choose to serve God just because he is God” (p. 248).
THE DARKNESS OF JESUS
How can we be sure God is present with us and working our suffering for good?
Jesus, writes Keller, experienced the ultimate darkness: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 24:45,46). He was truly God-abandoned; we believers only feel as if we are. Keller says . . .
“[Jesus] went into suffering for us. He did not abandon us despite all his own suffering. Do you think he will abandon you now in the midst of yours?” (p. 251).
GRIEVING AND REJOICING
What does it mean to “rejoice in suffering”? Keller argues it can’t mean to have happy emotions or keep a stiff upper lip or defiantly claim this suffering won’t defeat us (p. 252).
Peter writes, “in [God’s] salvation you greatly rejoice though now . . . you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6,7). They’re rejoicing and suffering simultaneously. So can we.
Keller explains to “rejoice in God” means to “ dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what he has done for us . . . Here is how it works. The grief and sorrow drive you more into God . . . and show you the resources you never had . . . The weeping drives you into the joy . . . and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you” (p. 253).
D. M. Lloyd-Jones writes . . .
“What we are really saying . . . is that the Christian is one who has become immune to what is happening around him . . . [He] has something that enables him to rise above these things, but the glory of the Christian life is that you rise above them through you feel them” (p. 254).
I’m reminded of Psalm 30:5b—“ . . . weeping my remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” David is celebrating deliverance from his enemies. Suffering is over. The Lord has turned his wailing into dancing (30:11).
On the other hand, Keller is writing not about joy after rescue from suffering, but about joy in the midst of suffering.
It occurs to me, though, we might apply Psalm 30:5b in line with Keller’s thoughts. That is, in the midst of nighttime weeping, we may experience tastes of morning-like joy.
Joy is an emotion that runs deep and high. Far more than a broad, bright smile. More than rumbling laughter or giddy happiness. The Hebrew word here bears that out. It implies a “shout of joy” or a “ringing cry”. It connotes a victory celebration after the war is won. To say, then, we may taste morning-like joy while weeping in the night is to proclaim a weighty statement.
I think we might apply Psalm 30:5b, because I think I may have tasted little morsels of morning-like joy in night-like suffering. Not a shout of joy or ringing cry. More an assurance, an inner sense, that the Lord is with me. That he’s using this for good. That his grace is enough. That with his strength in my weakness I can endure in faith. That, even when I feel as if God has become a stranger, I’m coming to know him more deeply.
It’s okay to cry. No need to put on a happy false face. Go ahead and weep. But know this: before that glorious morning of eternal joy dawns, we can taste bits of its joy even when we hurt.