A Word From Joel - July 3, 2024

David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. He said, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you nor bounteous fields!” 
2 Samuel 1:17, 19, 21

The Bible is grief-soaked literature, written by very different people over thousands of years, but they were united in grief. The Bible does not try and avoid or deny grief the way that many of us do. It looks straight into the abyss of suffering and says what needs to be said, without polish or spin. For all his flaws, David is a first-class griever. The deaths of Saul and Jonathan clear the way for David to be Israel’s next king, but before that happens, he leads the people in a lament for Israel’s fallen heroes. David sings his grief, which is deeply human and healing.

 Music and poetry allow us to access emotions in ways that mere words often cannot. Soren Kierkegaard said, “What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them, they sound like beautiful music.” The arts enable us to feel our feelings safely. That which can be too overwhelming if faced directly, poetry and music allow us to feel indirectly. You’ll notice that grief is neither measured nor reasonable.

David curses the mountain upon which Saul and Jonathan were killed. Is it the mountain’s fault that Saul and Jonathan died there? Of course not. Cursing them is not rational, but it is an authentic expression of grief. The Bible is full of unreasonable, yet utterly authentic expressions of grief in which someone speaks their true feelings. Sometimes those feelings include cursing and rage, not just at mountains but even at God. Though David doesn’t invoke God in this passage, the Psalms, Job, and Lamentations are chock-full of lament directly at God—God where were you? How could you let this happen? Scriptural lament climaxes when from the cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Few of us know that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 here, which is a Davidic psalm. David is a first-class griever. There is no expression of grief the Bible considers off limits.

Grief is not a lack of faith but an expression of it. God welcomes it all, so may we take Frederick Buechner’s advice, and speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. Psalm 56 is also attributed to David, and verse 8 says to God, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God knows every one of your sorrows and treasures them for the gifts they are.

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