Learning To Lament -- By: Douglas Groothuis
JBTM 10:2 (Fall 2013) p. 70
Learning To Lament
Douglas Groothuis is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where he leads the Apologetics and Ethics MA. He is the author of several books, including Christian Apologetics (IVP, 2011).
A vast literature on happiness has emerged in recent years based on “positive psychology.” Instead of emphasizing neurosis and disorders, psychologists are exploring what leads to human fulfillment. One book—which I read—Auththentic Happiness.1 That is good in its place, but we have little instruction on the wise use of woe. There is, to my knowledge, no book called Authentic Sadness. Virtuously aligning human feeling with objective fact is no small endeavor, and it takes us far beyond pleasurable sensations. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man,
Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed that universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could either be congruous or incongruous to it— believed, in fact, that object did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or out contempt.2
If Lewis is right, then some objects and situations, in this fallen world, merit lament as well. But our affections are too often out of gear. We often weep when we should laugh and laugh when we should weep or we feel nothing when we should feel something. Decades ago, a pop song confessed, “Sometimes I don’t know how to feel.” We have all felt this confusion. Nevertheless, our affect should follow our intellect in discerning how to respond to a world of groaning in travail and awaiting its final redemption (Rom 8:18–21). We live in between times and “under the sun,” as Ecclesiastes puts it. Accordingly, we are obligated to know what time it is.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance (Eccl 3:1, 4).
Sadness has its seasons as does happiness; this is simply because God’s creation has fallen into sin and has yet to reach its culmination in The New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21–22). Before then, we are still exiles, but living in hope. If we are to be godly stewards of our emotions, we must know the signs of the times, know our present time, and know what these times should elicit within us.
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