The Poetic Cry of Hope
Suffering has an inherent disjointing affect. It displaces our emotions and refashions our rationale. Suffering becomes, what feels like, an inescapable labyrinth of lament.
This emotional entanglement is explored throughout various books of the Bible but is particularly palpable in the Old Testament. The Psalms, for example, express various authors’ raw feelings, and the unhinging nature of suffering is on full display.
“…my soul pants for you, O God…My tears have been my food day and night …how I used to go with the multitude.” –Psalm 42
In our distressful moments, we long for the language of lament. We long for the approval to voice our sorrows, both individually and in community. Yet even when we feel overwhelmed with pain, the Bible teaches us that hope is eternal for those who trust in the Lord. In a moment, we’ll discuss a Biblical figure whose story was steeped in suffering. But ultimately, it’s the cross of Christ that reorients our focus amidst the distracting disposition of distress.
Jeremiah is arguably the Biblical figure most known for his intimate relationship with sorrow. He was burdened with the unenviable task of prophesizing God’s justice and ultimate judgment against his fellow Israelites, who, despite warnings, engaged in habitual idolatrous and unjust practices. This divine decision resulted in the destruction of his beloved home, Jerusalem, and the exile of his people. Throughout his lengthy book, Jeremiah endures rejection, suffers loneliness, languishes in isolation, and sustains beatings. Anguish is ever-present. No wonder he’s called the “weeping prophet.”
“My grief is beyond healing; my heart is broken…I hurt with the hurt of my people. I mourn and am overcome with grief…If only my head were a pool of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night…” — Jeremiah 8:18–9:1
For some of us, suffering is a common occurrence. We feel besieged by its presence. So much so that, like Jeremiah, our eyes feel like “a fountain of tears.”
Perhaps it’s the persistent prick of seclusion. In this time of “remote interactions,” solitude can be even more discomforting. Perhaps the anguish of anxiety looms in a pervasive manner. Uncertainty and the unease that accompanies it has ironically become synonymous with regularity. Maybe the recent or potential loss of a loved one has soaked our joy in sadness. Hope can feel fleeting and remote.
Jeremiah, too, experienced these emotional hurdles as the impending doom of his people edged closer and closer. Immediately following his self-titled book, there’s a rather intriguingly titled book called Lamentations. Officially, the author is unnamed, but Jewish interpretative history recognizes Jeremiah as its writer. The purpose of Lamentations is simple yet critical. It serves as a communal expression of all the feelings bound up in lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, a national tragedy.
The book is structured as five poetic laments. The author cleverly used the Hebrew alphabet as a mnemonic device so a mourner could easily recall and recite them. How peculiar, or perhaps profound, that God saw fit to convey the message of Lamentations through poetic utterances. He not only invites you to share your grief, but in a sublime manner, the language of poetry shows that your lament carries a mysterious beauty. Its splendor is not found intrinsically in the mourning but the mourner. For you have been created fearfully and wonderfully in the image of God, so your suffering is deeply known and felt by the very living God who formed you in your mother’s womb.
Yet even in the mourning dirges of Lamentations, hope abides. Grief can and should be expressed, but God has lovingly erected a barricade around it. This hedge of hope ensures that our grief can only go so far because what lies ahead is greater. Amid the heartbreaking reflections by the Lamentations’ writer, faith is found.
“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…The LORD is my portion…Therefore, I hope in Him!” — Lamentations 3:22–24
Jesus experienced many of the emotional obstacles the Israelites felt, and we currently feel, as His destiny with a Roman cross approached. He felt isolated from those who professed to love Him most. He was distressed about drinking from the proverbial “cup” in His Garden of Gethsemane lament, where He stated, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He was afflicted by anxiety to the point that His sweat became blood. And He ultimately endured excruciating pain as His body was subjected to the torturous institution of crucifixion. Jesus’ grief was great, but His hope for what lay ahead was greater.
Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote “Lament For A Son,” in which he chronicles his grieving process over the early death of his son. As he processes his pain, he comes to a broader realization of the power of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
“If sympathy for the world’s wounds is not enlarged by our anguish, if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, if commitment to what is important is not strengthened, if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is not weakened and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, then death has won. Then death, be proud.”
Steeped in suffering, the resurrection of Christ refocused Wolterstorff’s lens of life. Though the bite of agony persisted, the hope of the cross prevailed. It has helped him see his experience and the world anew. It has taken him from a personal to a communal experience. “What I have learned, to my surprise, is that in its particularity, there is universality.”
Our hearts may ache over the many sufferings of life, but let us not languish in lament, but look toward the One who not only taught us how to love but is the living embodiment of hope and love…Jesus Christ.