You Turn Dancing into Mourning

No, the title of this post isn’t a mistake.

I listened to this song recently, it’s one we’ve done at least in Connexion and maybe Sunday mornings too. I like it. There is a time for dancing, for feasting, for shouting and laughing.

That time is not right now.

The truth is, the theology works the other way too. God turns mourning into dancing, yes. And, God sometimes turns dancing in mourning, revelry into lament.  Why?

Augustine wrestled with this, or at least he helped Christians who were swept up in the cruelties surrounding the sacking of Rome in 410AD wrestle with it. He contends that, in part, God turned their comfort into suffering because they, like their pagan neighbors, were too in love with this world. “But,” some object, “Christians lost all, just like their pagan neighbors did!” Augustine’s response, “Did they lose faith? Or devotion? Or the possessions of the ‘inner man’ who is ‘rich in the sight of God? These are the riches of the Christian.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Augustine. But I don’t think Augustine would have counseled Christians to sing songs of celebration while Rome burnt. No, the calamity should be called calamity, not celebrated as a good thing. Grief should be expressed at the loss of life. Those in pain consoled, not cheered up with a peppy song and bouncing. Such worship is not emotionally honest at this time (Please, this is not a dig at the song above – it was written and recorded well before this pandemic struck. Only, this type of song is not, in my opinion, appropriate for the times)

Evangelicals, it is well documented, are not good at this. We are good at frivolity, decent at celebration, ok with fun and laughter. We do not excel at being weighty, at lament, at allowing sorrow and suffering to find expression.

Maybe a pandemic can teach us a bit of this. A few years ago Matthew Smith released an album called Quiet Hymns. I love the ’emotionally honest’ worship. I return again and again to his version of ‘I Need the Every Hour’ as I love the bridge at the end. We can, as the song below does, express hope – a deep, weighty, somber hope – without being peppy. Doing so is in keeping with the great biblical models of lament in the Psalms, the Prophets, and especially Lamentations.