Review: Sarah’s Laughter

Sarah’s Laughter, Vinoth Ramachandra. Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2020.

Summary: An exploration of suffering, whether through illness or physical decline, human or natural evil, and the embrace of grief, lament, doubt, questioning and more, and what it means to hope amid our struggle.

I thought a long time after listening to an older, respected teacher began a talk with words something like this: “As one gets older it becomes clearer that there is much in life that is hard, and that hurts.” This new work by Vinoth Ramachandra carries a similar message and it comes as a stark challenge to a lamentless church that proclaims a form of Christian life that moves from victory to victory.

Ramachandra has seen the hardness of life first hand, witnessing the bloody civil war in his native Sri Lanka, and the complicity of global powers that profited from the arms sold that perpetuated the conflict. He observes the staggering consequences of climate change for the poor of the nations and the unique vulnerability of the poor in our present pandemic. And he has grieved the loss of a wife to cancer. So much suffering leads him to ask two questions of God. One is “Why, Lord?” The other is “How long, O Lord?” They are questions that do not beg a theoretical explanation and this book is not an attempt to offer one. Rather it invites the unvarnished expression of our pain and doubts and questions, even as do the “psalms of darkness” in scripture. We both wonder about the existence of God and rage at what seems the unfairness of it all to the God we doubt. His message comes as a special challenge to many Western churches (at least white churches) where lament is not a part of either the liturgy or the life of the church.

In subsequent chapters he explores the anguish of Job, an anguish that both questions and seeks God, and is not answered by friends who can only muster arguments of divine justice and retribution. He explores the testimony of scripture and theologians to the grief and pain of God, the tears of God, the suffering of God with us culminating in the “handing over” of his son who “dies both at our hands and with us.” He wrestles with the realities of natural evil from animal predation to natural disasters, from which he observes the poor dying in disproportionate numbers, while reminding us that human evil is far worse.

Ramachandra considers what it means for the church to live as a community that holds grief and hope together. He believes that this is a creative place, one of forgiveness, of making meaning, of pursuing justice, and of anticipating a new creation. It is also a place of waiting. Ramachandra calls us to a faith that “is about faithfulness in action rather than knowing all the ‘right doctrines.’ ” It is a life lived both with all our questions and griefs, and yet in faithful and hopeful actions that follow in Christ’s steps, both to the cross, and beyond.

This is a far cry from “happy, clappy Christianity.” Ramachandra writes a book that unflinchingly looks at the hardest realities, the hardest questions we may ask and the most painful cries of our heart. And yet he also explores the possibility of a life still lived toward God, by faith and faithfulness, where doubt and belief, lament and joy live together. This book is for those whose life is hard and hurts. Inevitably, that will be all of us.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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