Lament a powerful way to enter God's own grief
Lament is "an invitation from God", says Katherine Shields from Interserve Australia.
October 5 2020Christine Gobius is no stranger to lament, a deep place of grief. She first encountered it through not being able to have children, and then “rediscovered” it when her house was flooded in the 2011 Brisbane floods.
“It was devastating. Our home was inundated, with the whole of the ground floor submerged, and 60cm of upstairs underwater.”
Christine, who is National Director of mission agency Interserve Australia, spoke to TMA following her address on the theme of Heartache and Hope: The Transforming Power of Grief in an Age of Eco-anxiety, at the ISCAST Conference on Science and Christianity, held online 10 to 12 July.
Dr Christine Gobius says lament is important because it helps us respond out of a place that reflects God’s love.
Katherine Shields, who joined her in the presentation, is Creation Care Advocate and Youth Worker for Interserve Australia. She told TMA that she began to experience deep grief when she heard about the Northern Pacific garbage patch. “It was while I was studying for a degree in marine biology seven years ago. The patch, which was then the size of Texas, is rubbish floating in the middle of the Pacific. Around 90 per cent of seabirds who’ve died in the area are found to have plastic in their stomachs.”
She also expressed concern about the effect of climate change on the people that Interserve seeks to serve in Central Asia. “There are increased suicide rates among farmers because of a similar situation to what we have in Australia – drought, floods and the unpredictability of significant weather events. Air pollution, biodiversity loss and unsustainable fishing and logging are also major problems,” she says.
Christine said her grief turned to anger when her pastor said at the church service one week after the floods: “We don’t understand why God allows such devastating events and we don’t need to understand because Jesus is returning to put an end to such suffering.”
Christine, a scientist with a PhD in Veterinary Science who has studied climate change, international development and theology at Master’s level, said she was angry “because this statement didn’t allow for a process of grieving, or asking questions, or reflecting on the human contribution to such disasters ... and deforestation, land use, urban sprawl and our consumer lifestyles are all part of that”.
She began to understand the importance of lament because “it is a place where you sit with the pain, and by sitting with people and engaging in the pain and lamenting, God is able to help us respond out of a place that reflects his love – love for others and love for Him.”
Katherine added that by being able to sit with our own pain “it allows us to sit with other people in their pain, and that’s exactly what compassion is. Compassion literally means ‘suffering with’. So the process of lament actually grows compassion in us. This has helped me rediscover that God is the God of Compassion. He is a God who suffers with us.”
She also realised that her grief, her compassion and passion for justice, came from God. “Lament is an invitation from God because he isn’t necessarily entering our pain so much as inviting us to enter his. Throughout the Bible we see many examples of God grieving, Jesus grieving and the Spirit grieving.”
For this reason, she says, lament is also a place of deep hope, “because if God cares about these things he’ll do something about them. Hope becomes grounded in who God is”.
Katherine also believes that environmental destruction is largely caused by greed, apathy and selfishness, which makes it a key discipleship issue. “Realising that this is a spiritual issue is core to following Jesus,” she says.
Christine agrees. “God calls us to be responsible stewards and caretakers of a consecrated creation.”
Christine was drawn to veterinary science, she says, because “I wanted a role involved with both people and agriculture that would serve disadvantaged communities.” She joined Interserve in her mid-20s, attracted by Interserve’s “holistic approach to mission and the understanding that God’s love for us encompasses our spiritual needs as well as our material and physical needs”.
In her 30-year involvement with Interserve she says she has always been inspired by its founding women. “It was started in 1852 in India by women and focussed largely on providing education and healthcare for women. One woman in particular has touched my heart – Rosalie Harvey, who served for 50 years from the late 1800s. She established a village for people with leprosy, who were essentially outcast, as well as a home for abandoned babies.
“Another strong personal source of inspiration for me is that she had a great passion for the care of animals, setting up an animal hospital as well as a relief corps of bullocks to provide rest for the bullocks that carried water to the town every day from a nearby river.”
Roland Ashby is the former Editor of TMA. See his blog, Living Water, at www.thelivingwater.com.au
All 56 talks from ISCAST’s COSAC 2020 conference are available to buy through the COSAC website where you will find details of the program, all the talks and the speakers: https://ISCASTCOSAC.org