A Theology for Lament
In the Philippines, people are used to dealing with aftermath. Sifting through rubble after a natural disaster. Piecing life together after military conflict. Trying to move forward from grinding poverty. There are relief and development agencies doing the important work of feeding, clothing, and rebuilding. But what about the needs of the human spirit? The need to make sense, to sort through and to find a hope that will sustain.
Langham-trained theological leader Athena Gorospe has experienced the aftermath. When Typhoon Haiyan laid waste to a large swath of her country, she took a team of her students from Asian Theological Seminary (ATS), where she teaches biblical studies, to offer help in the midst of the disaster. If you had seen them, here’s what you would have noticed: It would have looked less like rolling up their sleeves to put hands, shoulders and backs into the relief effort—and more like sitting, listening, and just being with people in their grief. A psychological first aid of sorts.
“There were a lot of organizations sending in relief goods but there was nobody, very few organizations helping people process the trauma,” she said. “I praise God for all the organizations that have provided a lot of physical help to people. But, there’s also an emotional wound, a spiritual wound going on. They need to be processed. “
And so instead of offering relief goods like food and water, Athena and her students offered Scripture—and those who received it were grateful. “They kept saying, ‘Thank you, thank you,’” Athena says.
While the evangelical church in the Philippines is a minority—Athena believes it has a great opportunity to minister the hope of the Gospel even in the darkest of hours. That’s why, since receiving her Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary with support from Langham, she has been equipping her students at ATS—those who will go on to be the future pastors, seminary professors, and community leaders in the Philippines—to help people find a biblical answer to the question “Why, God?” It’s what she calls the theology of lament.
“When we went to those areas, we found churches that were literally just rubble, with people just meeting on the rubble of the old church. Pastors could not preach. They didn’t know what to say during the sermon,” she shares. “People are saying, ‘We are being punished by God. Is this God judging us? Why is this happening?’”
Thinking back to ministering in the rubble, Athena remembers the story of a man who was counseled by one of her students. When they left him, he was clinging to Scripture, a psalm that had been shared with him. Months later, another team from ATS came through and asked the man how he was doing. “This team found him still clinging to that piece of paper, and he told them, ‘Without this Scripture, I would have gone crazy.’”
And, by God’s grace, his is not an isolated story.
“We are seeing this happening, People being helped because of Scripture. Being helped because people, students, were trained to help address their questions theologically,” she says. “And in the seminary where I teach, we’re helping the church in terms of coming up with resources in times of disaster. You need preaching that helps people get in touch with what has happened so they can lament about it. Not only to lament, but also to experience God’s presence amidst the disaster.”
And in a country vulnerable to the teachings of the prosperity gospel and the leanings of triumphalism—helping people find hope in suffering is, in some ways, the ultimate form of relief.
Right now, Langham is equipping 75 emerging theological students from 34 countries—biblical leaders who will go on to shepherd and disciple other leaders as they faithfully share God’s Word. There are nearly 350 Langham Scholars serving around the world—leaders like Athena who says her theological studies have prepared her to raise up other leaders who can bring a biblical perspective to the challenges in their countries.