“The Shack” by William Paul Young has sold millions. At the heart of the book is a pain so deep, so searing and disturbing, Mack, the book’s main character, nearly goes mad in his grief. It’s the pain of a parent who loses a child. He labels his pain “the great sadness.”
The book is a lamentation of loss swallowed up by the great love of God. Mack’s pain is experienced early in the book and it overshadows the story until the love of God is finally understood and experienced in the form of forgiveness and grace and acceptance. The author of “The Shack” claims it is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain.” If that’s true, all of us have a shack we’ve built and continue to refresh and remodel – or else your shack has become a deserted, dilapidated old thing as you’ve been released from its power to imprison you.
Following the battle on Mount Gilboa, a messenger sought out David with the news that both King Saul and his son, Jonathan, were killed. The messenger clearly believed he was bringing good news to David. And why wouldn’t the messenger think so? David was the heir apparent to the throne. But David did not rejoice with the news. From somewhere deep within him a howl boiled up so articulate and anguished that hearing its poetry so many years later, we still shudder under its power and pain.
David understood tragedy and what it was to ache with loss. In his grief, David articulated a universal pain all of us feel: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications” (Psalm 130:1). David’s lament is a cry of pain, and we’re not quite sure what to do with that. What do we do? Likely, we pretend not to notice as this sort of pain is too raw for our timid spirits.
In describing the experience of a mother of a small child who had just died in the hospital, Elisabeth KÃ¼bler-Ross observed that she looked numb, blank and expressionless. So she said to her, “You look like you’re in such pain that you might scream.” And the woman blurted out, “Do you have a screaming room in the hospital?” She was serious. KÃ¼bler-Ross said back to her, “No, but we do have a chapel,” which was a silly answer because the mother immediately replied, “I need just the opposite. I need to scream and rage and curse. I’ve just been sitting in the parking lot and cursing and screaming at God. ‘God why did you let this happen to my child? Why did you let this happen to me?'” And KÃ¼bler-Ross answered, “Do it here. It’s better to do it with somebody than out in a parking lot all alone.”
These words from 2 Samuel are a scream of pain, and David will not be quieted, he will not be comforted, and he will not be ignored. David ordered his lament be taught to the people of Judah. “Write this down and teach it to the people,” he commanded, “so they will know how to speak of the pain that fills their hearts and seeks its own release.” Pain can silence us, you know. We can lose so much that no words can be found to speak of it. It is important for us to find the songs and symbols and rituals by which we may articulate our hurt.
It’s interesting to read how Jesus handled his own grief at the grave of Lazarus. Fully present in his own feelings, Jesus wept. He felt the darkness of his soul’s pain and expressed exactly what he felt. He didn’t try to stifle his tears by damming them up inside. Instead, he openly wept. Then he resolutely called Lazarus from the tomb, and Lazarus stepped out wrapped in dead man’s linens.
Jesus said something that most of us miss because we’re distracted by the appearance of a dead man from the stench of death. Jesus looked up into the wideness of heaven and confessed quietly to God, “Father, I thank you that you heard me.”
Simple, isn’t it? David commanded the people of Israel to stop in their joy that they could finally lift up a new king and commanded them to see this as a moment to remember. We’re invited – no, we’re commanded – to launch our griefs and our deepest pain into the depths of God’s love, knowing God hears our cries and attends to our sorrows.
Keith Herron is senior pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. He holds degrees from Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. He and his wife, Wanda, have a son and daughter, Ben and Alex.
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).