3 Truths About Lament

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June 23, 2021

We know that God is good all the time. We sing about all the ways God loves me, and frequently in language that comes straight from Scripture. Lament is not a song of triumph, it is a song of grief. Lament wrestles to trust and keep faith in a loving God when we feel how broken our world is.

In Lamentations 4, the poet does not say, “God will fight my battles,” but “The tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst…” (v. 4). Likewise, the poet does not hopefully exclaim, “no weapon formed against me will prosper,” but “Happier were the victims of the sword than the victims of hunger…” (v. 9).

In Lamentations 4, the poet boldly speaks of the reality of suffering he sees, sitting with it, naming it, even writing poetry about it. This is not the stuff of the modern praise music we are accustomed to, but in this part of the Word of God, we are invited to respond to suffering, and we are given a form to do so: lament.

Lamentations 4 reflects on the conquering of Jerusalem and the Jewish people by a foreign power. The nation’s downfall took place after generation upon generation of the people rejecting God and His will that they would serve as the vehicle of His blessing for all nations.

Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

There are three helpful aspects to consider as we reflect on this poem of lament.

1️⃣ Lament is attentive. In this text, the poet observes the depths of the experience of those around him. With the list of experiences he recounts, the theological reflections he offers, and the imagery he uses, the poet indicates that lament was not something that this author simply happened upon. Instead, he put real attentive work into noticing the reality of the suffering experienced by those around him.

2️⃣ Lament is patient. This poet does not call Jerusalem to pull themselves up out of the mud and make the most of what they have. He does not tell them to count their blessings or how it could be worse. He does not proclaim the triumph of the King of Israel. Instead, he acknowledges the pain and patiently sits in it, even going so far as to spend time composing several carefully crafted poems about the situation. But each of these moments of lament turns towards hope in God [Lam. 4:22] and calling us to actively wait upon Him.

3️⃣ Lament is generous. Lament personalizes others pain. The author of Lamentations expresses the importance of lamenting over others and alongside of them. This poem is about identifying something external to us and then forcefully bringing it to God.

Where might God be calling us into attentive, patient, generous lament?

Consider what patient lament might prompt us to think about such knowledge.

Patience in lament invites us to respond with actual cries to God. Can you say to God, “Lord of every nation, why do you allow some to suffer disproportionately, simply because of where they live or were born?” “God of all creation, the brokenness of this pandemic is hurting people made in your image!”

And consider how generous lament might cause us to respond.

What if we began to move ourselves to the background in our lament? What if we begin to say, “Because we love the people God loves, we will declare their suffering to a God who hears our lament!”

How else does God call us into attentive, patient, and generous lament? Begin by seeing what God sees: 16% of pregnancies end in abortion (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/ss/ss6907a1.htm). One study indicates that 81% of self-identified Black Christians think the U.S. has a race problem (and just 33% of self-identified White Christians agree, https://www.barna.com/research/american-christians-race-problem/). What else around you is God inviting our church to grieve?

Lament is not necessarily a happy topic. However, it does give us hope and it does rouse us to action. Specifically, to put our trust in God. It should make us passionate about sharing the goodness of the Gospel to a broken world. Lament does not change our situation, but it changes our focus. It invites us to look and listen, patiently reflect, and respond with actual lament together generously. We look to our Savior who told us those who are blessed are those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:4, 6), and we sit with Him and lament with Him, crying out to God for justice.