The notification on my phone this morning made me groan: “BREAKING NEWS – New Zealand police confirm death toll in mosque terror attacks has risen to 49.”
The details are still emerging, but it appears that a gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers. In addition to the almost fifty people killed, twenty-nine others were wounded. Another mass killing. Along with the attack, the gunman is reported to have posted a lengthy statement on social media. The provocative manifesto features white supremacy language, a desire to foment anarchy, and hate-filled rhetoric.
The statement provides a window in the soul of an image-of-God-destroyer. And it’s deeply troubling.
Consider the thousands of people who lost a loved one today. Fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers are not coming home. Empty seats at tables. Birthdays which used to be celebrated will now be mourned. Graduation services missed. Grand-babies born who will never know the embrace of their grandpa or grandma.
Forty-nine people made in God’s image were killed out of a blood-thirsty, fear-inducing hate. Is there much worse?
New Zealand is on the other side of the world. The people killed were Muslim. But the distance in geography or in religious belief should not cause Christians to keep our distance from this grief. We should embrace the command of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:14 to “weep with those who weep.”
This is a time to lament. Silence would be deafening.
What is Lament?
Over a third of the Psalms are laments. They were written for unique circumstances including personal crisis or a national tragedy. Beyond the Psalms, the book of Lamentations serves as a memorial to the destruction of Jerusalem. There are laments in the Bible for every painful human emotion.
A lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust. It is the Christian prayer language that vocalizes pain so that life can be lived in obedience to what we believe. A lament enters into pain for the purpose of transforming it with God’s help.
Biblical lament turns to God in the chaos of trauma. It lays out the struggle, often asking pointed questions like “How long, O Lord?” (Ps. 13). Laments call upon God for help. And they allow us to recommit ourselves to living with compassion and godliness.
Praying a lament when you are in pain makes sense. But why should we pray lament prayers for people on the other side of the world – even those with whom we have religious differences?
First, we should lament because the loss of any human life is a tragedy. Christians believe life is a gift from God. We believe every human being, regardless of their religious beliefs, reflects the image of our Creator. Destroying that image is the ultimate expression of a hateful, anti-God mindset. It should make us lament.
Second, we should lament because it tunes our hearts to the pain of others. Geographic distance and religious difference can cause us to keep an emotional arms-length from the brokenness in the world. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). He did not remain aloof from our pain. The incarnation and the crucifixion show us how closely he embraced our brokenness. We should do the same. Praying lament prayers help us bridge the divide of indifference or insensitivity.
Third, we should lament because it communicates the right message. How would we want our Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu neighbors to respond if our churches were attacked? It is important, especially in light of the published manifesto, to re-affirm the biblical admonition to love our neighbor. Long-held religious differences shouldn’t preclude us from lamenting. Rather, this is a moment to communicate our grief because silence sends a negative message.
Lamenting a tragedy like the New Zealand massacre of Muslims expresses the heart of Christianity: to love God and our neighbor.
How do we Lament?
Moments of grief require emotion and action. Therefore, be sure to communicate your sympathy to Muslim neighbors and co-workers. Let them know about your sadness and outrage. If you start a conversation on Monday with, “How was your weekend?” you’ll send an insensitive message. Acknowledge the tragedy. Vocalize your sorrow.
Consider writing a prayer of lament. Reflect on the sorrow you see on the news. Put yourself in the place of family members in New Zealand whose lives are impacted forever. And if you have an opportunity in a Sunday service, Small Group, or on social media, make your prayer public.
Let me give you an example:
Oh God, I turn to you with sorrow for what I see in New Zealand. Forty-nine people who bear your image, fellow human beings have been destroyed! I’m grieved. I’m groaning.
“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray.…For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” (Ps 5:1-2,4)
My heart breaks today for Muslim families who are shaken and traumatized. My heart moans when I hear about the ideology behind this senseless slaying.
God, bring comfort to the families. Give them help through loved ones and their community. Grant that justice would be done and bring healing to the city of Christchurch.
Jesus, we long for the day when satanic ideologies and attacks will be no more. We yearn for the day when your grace will rule over all that is wrong in the world. This tragedy reminds us of our need for you. And so help those of us who embrace your name to model love, mercy, and justice. Help us to live out our love for you as we love our neighbor.
In our sorrow we turn to you. We weep with those who weep as we wait upon you.
The full story on the slaying in New Zealand is yet to be told. It will likely get worse as more facts become clear. But in the meantime, this is a moment for Christians to weep for Muslims.
The breaking news should break our hearts.
It’s a time for Christians to lament.
Mark Vroegop is the Lead Pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, and the author of a new book entitled Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.