So much noise

April 19, 2011

“And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.”    Ezra 3:11-13

We spent a good part of our Torrey session last week discussing the implications of this small paragraph in the book of Ezra. It’s such an uncomfortable image, but one true to experience. The Israelites were shouting for joy because they had finally been given the resources to build a temple…after years of exile in Babylon, God was beginning to restore them. But the older priests wept. They remembered the temple in the days of Solomon—lined with pure gold and precious stones, with cherubim engraved along the walls—and were hit with the truth that it temple was lost forever.

Was their weeping ungrateful? Was it an ungodly response to God’s gift of a new temple, evidence that they were bitter towards God? I don’t think so. I do not think sadness necessitates ungratefulness, and I do not think it always involves blame. But I was genuinely surprised to find that not everyone in class agreed with those statements.

Last semester, Greg Wolfe, the founder and editor of Image, gave a lecture at Biola entitled “The Christian Tragedy.” It was one of my favorite chapels of the semester (and by “of the semester,” I mean “of the required 15 I had to make-up online in the last week of school”…), and I find myself thinking about it often. Wolfe spoke about tragedy as a topic largely absent from our pews, our bookstores, and our art. He says:

“To have a tragic sense of life is to be aware that not every bad thing that happens in the world is someone’s fault.”

Sometimes blame or anger accompanies sadness, and sometimes it doesn’t. The old priests of Israel were right to mourn the loss of the former temple: it was a tragic loss. Jesus was right to mourn the death of his friend Lazarus for the same reason.

I wonder why sometimes Christians confuse sadness with ungratefulness or blame. Is it because we believe the good news of the gospel negates all pain?

As Easter weekend approaches, I am reminded by Wolfe that even within the good news there is a time to mourn, to remember the tragedy of Good Friday:

“The notion that Christianity is simply comic because the resurrection makes for a happy ending could not be more wrong…Christ fulfills this contradiction of existence, not by dissolving it but by bearing the affirmation of the human situation as it is through still deeper darkness: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ [‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’]”