Yet God inspired the many psalms of lament, some of them quite raw (Pss. 22, 39, 88, 90, etc.). In Hurting with God, Glenn Pemberton claims that there are 60 psalms of lament, although not all of them share the same form.
In light of all of this, how might we suffer well in cyberspace? How do I love God and neighbor in cyberspace, especially in suffering?
First, airing our laments or lamenting with others has more force the greater the personal presence. When I recently consoled a friend who lost a beloved pet, my spoken words, bodily expressions, and touch went deeper than any text could do. Further, if I send a handwritten card, this expresses more fellow-feeling than an email or text. As I suffer through the sad story of my wife’s dementia, I appreciate emails and texts and video calls, but receiving a physical embrace or weeping with someone goes deeper and lasts longer. Handwritten cards do much the same.
However, many good friends are literally out of reach, they live too far away. In this case, a well-crafted Facebook message or email may be heartening to me. I sometimes do the same to those far away, although I try to supplement this with handwritten cards and phone calls when possible. When possible, I try to visit them personally or have them visit me. As John wrote:
I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. (3 John 13–14)
Second, when we use the medium of cyberspace, how can we lament and help others in their lament? I have done much lamenting on Facebook, especially in the last three years. I have lapsed into self-pity, I have been gritty, but I have labored to express grief in a medium-specific and medium-appropriate manner. I don’t tell family secrets. I do not want to cause undue alarm, but I do bleed on the screen. I do this because I know many will pray for me and offer words of compassion and advice. I have made friends on Facebook who have become true friends: people who care about me and show it. I try to reciprocate—on Facebook and elsewhere. One kind woman offered to edit some of my writing, given that my wife, Becky, can no longer manage that. Her editing style is remarkably similar to Becky’s. Thanks be to God.
Of late, I have been writing much about the theology of lament and how it should shape apologetics and ethics. When I am working on an essay or a book, I sometimes take a sentence or paragraph and post it. From the responses, they seem to console and encourage others who lament or who need the permission to lament. Some have thanked me for writing out my laments online. Thus, no matter how limited the medium, it can become a conduit for healing grace. I do not look to Facebook or other internet media for my deepest solace and wisest counsel, but it can rub balm into my wounds.
A third way we can suffer well in cyberspace is to limit our circle of suffering. In recent years, many have told me of deep, extended, unusual, and even bizarre suffering. My richest conversations happen face to face and often yield tears. (Tears cannot be received through the internet, no matter how fast the connection or how high the resolution.) My students have told me of woes I did not know existed.
Those who suffer in this way I call siblings in suffering. They know weighty woes unknown to most. I may interact with them on Facebook as well. The Facebook time gains meaning because of my personal engagement with them offline. But this can be emotionally exhausting. I see needs I wish I could meet—more siblings in suffering—but the need is not necessarily a call.