Having just finished reading Lamentations, I was reminded of a Hebrew term that points out an element of the experience of personal or national tragedy that western minds can overlook. The term is ḥerpâ, traditionally translated ‘reproach’, and more recently ‘disgrace’ (NIV, NRSV) or ‘degradation’ (New Jerusalem Bible). It occurs three times in Lamentations, e.g. Lamentations 5:1: “Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!” (Lam 5:1 NRS; also 3:30, 61).
This important word brings out the personal loss of face involved in devastating experiences. We don’t talk about that much in the west, I don’t think, but as we watch Syria tearing itself apart, or consider refugee and migration issues, it’s good to remember that along with the bereavement, loss of employment and income, destruction of communities, and physical harm, hunger and exposure, another element to the suffering is the accompanying sense of dislocation and the destruction of dignity. Reading Lamentations, this is poignant, as one-time princes see their skin blacken and peel through starvation (4:7-8), and cannibalism creeps in (4:10). Individuals suffer disgrace, and the city that was one of the great cities of her time, at least within her region (1:1; 2:15) gives passers-by the chills with its horrific destruction.
God have mercy on Damascus, on Aleppo, on Hama. What if it were Melbourne? London? LA?