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A lament for our nation

Lament is not a common word today. It is rare to hear of lamentation in our secular culture, and even within the Church we don’t often speak of lament. And yet, I believe lament is one of the most important – and biblical – postures that we can take as Christians in the public square today.

Why lament?

Consider our situation. We see (at least) 87,000 abortions every year here in Canada. Over 13,000 died by euthanasia last year, and that number grows every year.

We’ve seen our fundamental freedoms eroded. Conscience rights for health care workers aren’t adequately protected. Our governments have redefined marriage by liberalizing divorce laws, recognizing same-sex marriages, and even starting to legitimize polyamorous relationships. The entire concepts of motherhood and fatherhood are fractured by our country’s policies on in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, and jurisdictions like Ontario are recognizing that kids can have many (not just two) parents. Hundreds of kids are pursuing medical gender transitioning, rejecting the bodies that God has given them. Counseling children to love the body and identity they have been given has been outlawed by conversion therapy legislation. Human trafficking, pornography, and prostitution are rampant in society. And our country, ostensibly still founded on the principle “that recognizes the supremacy of God,” has insisted that all cultures and all religions by-and-large are equal.

Sin and brokenness are pervasive in all aspects of Canadian society. Let’s consider some potential unbiblical options of how to respond to this sin before coming to why we need to lament for our nation.

Unbiblical responses

1. Do not grumble

One response – the most unbiblical response – is to grumble. We can be tempted to complain to God, to each other, and to ourselves.

But complaining is antithetical to the Christian life. The Israelites of the Old Testament were famous for grumbling. They complained about bitter water or a lack of water (Ex. 15:24, 17:3), about a lack of food (Ex. 16:2), their misfortunes (Num. 11:1), the strength of the Canaanites (Num. 14:2), and their leadership (Num. 16:11, 41; 17:5). In most of these instances, God punished His people. He had just brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and, rather than worshipping and praising Him, they complained.

Rather than “grumbling or disputing,” Paul calls on Christians to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). We confess that “it is impossible for those grafted into Christ by true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude” (HC Q&A 64).

2. No need to fear

Another response to a bleak political situation is fear and anxiety, but this too is an unbiblical response. We may fear persecution from our culture, tyranny from our government, or censure from media companies. But in Philippians 4, Paul instructs followers of Christ, “do not be anxious about anything.” Christ Himself commands us “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” or about anything else for that matter (Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-31). The most frequent command found in Scripture is “do not be afraid.”

3. Do not be angry

Another common response to this sin-filled world is anger. Anger can be a powerful motivator to inspire people to speak up and to act. And, unlike complaining or anxiety, there is some biblical justification to be angry (e.g., Eph. 4:26). When people sin and transgress the law of the LORD, there is a reason for righteous anger. Jesus Himself became angry on occasion with a righteous anger (Mark 3:1-6 and Mark 10:13-16).

Scripture, however, portrays human anger as a negative phenomenon in almost every instance. Proverbs often counsels the wise and the righteous to refrain from anger (Prov. 14:29, 15:18, 16:32, 19:11, 22:24, 29:22). The apostle Paul commands believers to put away anger on several occasions (2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Tim. 2:8).

Our fallen anger makes us susceptible to sin. (Perhaps why Eph. 4:26 says “be angry and do not sin.”) Anger can easily lead to hasty and thoughtless words and actions. Perhaps this is why James admonishes believers to be “slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Like fire, anger can be a beneficial and God glorifying tool when used in the right way, yet it can easily grow out of control and cause great spiritual (not to mention temporal!) damage.

So instead of complaining, fearing, or being angry about the state of our nation, a more biblical response is lament.

An example of lament

Scripture is full of laments, but the best example of lamentation flows from the prophet Jeremiah and the people of Judah in exile.

Put yourself in their shoes. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Clear your mind.

Imagine you are a young Jew living around 609 BC. You and your people are led by King Josiah. Your life revolves around a divinely inspired calendar of feasts and sacrifices. In fact, you just celebrated a Passover the likes of which hadn’t been observed since the days of the judges. You observe a weekly Sabbath day of rest, a year of Sabbath rest of the land every seven years, and a year of Jubilee every 50 years. You periodically visit the glorious temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, perhaps the most ornate, beautiful, and costly structure on earth. There the Levite singers and musicians make music to God and the priests offer sweet incense to the LORD. God has promised that a descendent of David would sit on the throne of Judah forever. In fact, the current king “turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might” so that there was never a king that came before him or after him that pursued the LORD with such fervour (2 Kings 22-23). Life is good.

During your lifetime, all that comes crashing down. The Egyptian Pharoah Neco kills godly King Josiah, hauls his successor, King Jehoahaz, in chains to Egypt, exacts a heavy tribute from Judah, and sets up a puppet king, Jehoiakim, on the throne. After a stint under Egyptian oppression, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon puts your country under tribute. When King Jehoiakim rebels against Babylon, bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites begin raiding your country. King Nebuchadnezzar comes back with a vengeance, besieges and conquers Jerusalem, carries away all the treasures of the temple and the king’s house, and carries away all the royal family, all officials, all the mighty men of valor, all the smiths and craftsmen, and 10,000 more captives. Only the poor remain under another puppet king, Zedekiah.

Thankfully, the temple, the center of Jewish life, still stands. But your religious leadership pollutes this temple. Then Zedekiah rebels against Babylon too, prompting Nebuchadnezzar to return again to besiege Jerusalem and trigger a terrible famine in the city. When the city falls, Nebuchadnezzar slaughters Zedekiah’s sons in front of him, gouges out Zedekiah’s eyes, and carries him off to Egypt. But at least the temple still stands.

A few years later, Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem a third time, destroying every building in Jerusalem, including the temple, and tearing down the walls. Even the poor people who were originally left in Jerusalem are carried off to Babylon, except for the poorest of the poor who are left to work the land.  And even after all this, the poorest of the poor rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, murder the governor, and flee in fear to Egypt, the very place that God had led them out of slavery 890 years before. And so, the land lays desolate.

Your nation is utterly destroyed. Your whole religion revolving around the temple, sacrifices, and feasts is impossible. There is no descendant of David seemingly on the throne. It’s a horrific state of affairs. What was the response of the Jews carried off to Babylon?

They responded with lament. We get a glimpse of this in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” But the main lamentation over the exile is written by the prophet Jeremiah. While there isn’t a book of Complaining, of Anxiety, or of Anger in Scripture, there is a book of Lamentations. For almost the entire book, Jeremiah recounts and laments the destruction of Jerusalem. The book opens,

How lonely sits the city that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.
She weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheeks;
Among all her lovers she has none to comfort her;
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
They have become her enemies.
Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude;
She dwells now among the nations but finds no resting place;
Her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

What is a lament?

Lament, properly speaking, is a uniquely Christian activity. It isn’t complaining, though it certainly recounts all the evils of this present age. It isn’t anxiety, although the situation certainly seems bleak and full of uncertainty. And it isn’t primarily angry, despite the calls for judgement on Babylon found in the final verses of Psalm 137. And lament isn’t just mourning what has been lost.

A lament has hope.

That’s why, smack dab in the middle of the book of Lamentations and in the middle of perhaps the most hopeless period of Judah’s existence, Jeremiah confesses, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (3:21-23).

One hundred and one years ago, Thomas Chisholm plucked these words out of Lamentations to create the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness. It is a beautiful hymn of hope and praise. But it helps to remember its scriptural context. God’s faithfulness is wonderful indeed when we consider how He changes not; how all nature witnesses to His great faithfulness, mercy, and love; and how His presence cheers and guides us, as the hymn’s verses recount. But those truths aren’t the context for Jeremiah’s confession when he says, “great is thy faithfulness.” Lamentation over the destruction of Judah and the captivity of the Jews (Jeremiah is in captivity himself) is the context. God’s faithfulness is always important, but it tastes the sweetest when it is juxtaposed with the evils of this world.

Lamentation today

Politically, culturally, socially, economically, religiously – really any way you can think of – we are in a far better position than Judah was at the start of the exile. As we’ve already recounted, we certainly face many evils in this dark world that tempt us to respond with complaints, fear, or anger. But I think that the best response is lament. We can lament instead of complaining about the failure of political leaders to follow God’s will. We can lament rather than fear the cultural hostility to orthodox Christianity. We can lament rather than rage about the injustices in the world. And lament does more than just look around at others. It confesses our own wrongdoings, remembers the faithfulness of our sovereign God, and prays for His intervention.

And so, I lament for our nation. And I’ll do it with a song, a Jeremiah lament-style version of Great Is Thy Faithfulness:

O LORD, our nation reviles and forgets Thee.
We have departed from thy righteous law.
We deserve judgement and none of thy favour,
But I call this to mind and so have hope:
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases –
Great is thy faithfulness, LORD, unto me!

Levi Minderhoud is the BC manager of ARPA Canada.

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Pro-life - Abortion

Should we ask God to forgive Canada for all the babies being aborted? No.

A few years back I was busy preparing for a cross-country series of pro-life presentations. My research had me digging through some articles on what Scripture says about who or what the preborn child is, what our responsibility to the preborn child is, and what the law’s relationship to the preborn child ought to be. In one of piece I came across the following Bible text from Deut. 21:1-3a, 7-9: If anyone is found slain…and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain man will take a heifer…. Then they shall answer and say, “Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, who you have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people…” So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD. The passage left me pondering: should we, as Reformed churches, be regularly praying for forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood, as it relates to abortion? We know that the carcasses of dead babies can be found in nearly every hospital in every major city in this country. Ought we to be in specific prayer on this issue? Or would that be a misapplication of the text? No forgiveness without repentance I turned the passage and the text over to Professor emeritus of Old Testament, Dr. Cornelis Van Dam. He wrote the following. "What is striking is that although the murder was unsolved, and no one could specifically be held accountable, God teaches that there is nevertheless corporate responsibility. The people as a whole needed to respond to it through their elders. The elders of the two closest cities have to make atonement on behalf of Israel and pray for forgiveness. By making atonement, the people through the elders show remorse over this murder and thus provide a basis for asking for forgiveness. " there are some major differences with our current situation. Canada is not in a special covenant relationship with God, with special rules for affecting atonement in the land. However, the country’s rulers are ultimately responsible to God, also with respect to the sixth commandment (Rom 13:1-5). But, as a nation, we have not received special covenant regulations for making atonement. Atonement has been made in Christ and it is the church that has been given the duty to proclaim that gospel. Hence your question, does the church also have the task to pray for forgiveness? "Abortions are not unsolved murders and we certainly have corporate responsibility as a democratic society for the murders of those children not yet born that take place in hospitals. Abortion has become a taboo topic. Those who govern are determined to let abortions continue. Can we pray for forgiveness when there is no repentance? The biblical answer is 'no.' We can pray that God withhold his wrath from our decadent society, bless the proclamation of the gospel so that many repent, and bless the work of those who want to honor God’s rights in the land. But simply to pray for forgiveness would go against the biblical principle that repentance is necessary for forgiveness to be possible. Think, for example, of Christ’s words: 'If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him' (Luke 17:3). God only forgives us if we are repentant (Luke 13:3; Acts 3:19) and his forgiving is to be a model for ours (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). If and when Canada repents of the sin of abortion, then the church should certainly pray that God also forgive that heinous crime. "The crime of abortion is extremely serious. Israel had to make atonement lest God’s wrath descend on the land. But Israel also had to repent in order for the sacrifices of atonement to be accepted. Without repentance, God rejected the sacrifices and – due to Israel’s continued sins – ultimately destroyed both the northern and southern kingdoms in accordance with the covenant curses. Even though Canada is not in a special covenant relationship with God, this country too faces God’s judgment and at some point it will happen unless there is repentance and the forgiveness that follows. After all, God holds all nations accountable, especially those who know or could know his will (cf., e.g., Luke 10:14)." But what of Jesus and Stephen’s prayers? Dr. Van Dam’s response was very helpful, but it did prompt one more question. If repentance must precede forgiveness, what should we make of Jesus’ plea on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?” (Luke 23:34) And what should we make of Stephen’s prayer as he was stoned to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Dr. Van Dam responded with the following: "In the light of what Scripture teaches, the late Dr. William Hendriksen, in his commentary on this passage, rightly paraphrased this prayer of our Savior thus: “Blot out their transgression completely. In thy sovereign grace cause them to repent truly, so that they can be and will be pardoned fully.” "In this way he interceded for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). Christ’s prayer was heard. Thousands of Jews believed in Christ after his death when they realized what they had done (Acts 2:37-41; 4:4; 6:7). At the same time, the nation as a whole stood condemned and the judgment pronounced on Jerusalem could not be averted (Luke 21:5-6). The city fell to the Romans in 70 AD with the resulting slaughter, enslavement, the sacking of the city, and the destruction of the temple. It was the end of the Jewish state. Stephen’s prayer can be understood in the same light as that of the Lord. It was a plea that those who were killing him would see and realize what they were actually doing and repent and so receive forgiveness." Conclusion As Christians then, we must be a shining light in this country darkened by the heinous crime of abortion. We must continue to work also to bring repentance to our decadent society so that, one day, our Father might forgive Canada our trespasses. As one pro-life apologist said to me, “May their sins of commission never be because of our sins of omission.” André Schutten is ARPA Canada's Director of Law & Policy. Dr. Van Dam is Professor emeritus of Old Testament at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary....