“Lord the pain hurts too much, so why aren’t You taking it away?”
At some point in our lives, even as followers of Jesus, one of these questions (or all of them), has either passed from our lips or landed on our minds. This raises the question, “Is it wrong for me to cry out to the Lord? Or is that a version of sinful doubt?” The missing ministry of lamentation, especially in the lives of believers, helps us to answer this question and more.
So what exactly is lamentation? The Oxford dictionary defines lamentation as “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Lamentation is literally crying out during a time or season of pain or loss. But for followers of Jesus, there’s a qualifier at the end of that. Biblically, lamentation is “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow laid out to Jesus only.” This doesn’t mean that we don’t or shouldn’t lament with others, but that Biblical lamentation is focused on crying out to Jesus, and Him alone. Mark Vroegop, in his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, defined Biblical lament as, “the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.”
But where do we see lamentation in the Bible?
Jesus actually lamented the death of a friend. When His friend Lazarus died, and seeing how the death of a loved one causes much grief, the Gospel of John puts it simply, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Not only did Jesus practice lament, but it’s often seen in the Book of Psalms. According to one study, of the 150 psalms, some 68 psalms can be classified as a form of lament. To say that lamentation in the Psalms is important is most certainly an understatement. Finally, there is an entire book in the Bible devoted to lamentation, which is where we will now turn.
About midway through Scripture, after the Book of Jeremiah, is a book actually called Lamentations! Here in this book (the author most likely Jeremiah) Jerusalem has fallen to the hands of Babylon in 587 BC. Jeremiah looks upon the destruction of his city and says, “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed” (Lam. 1:16). Jeremiah uses lament to cry aloud how rough losing his hometown is. He doesn’t hold anything back…and yet later on in the book he proclaims, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bears the yoke in his youth” (3:25-27). For lamentation is not only a time to cry out to the Lord, but to depend on Him as well.
But how does lamentation work? And why should we make this practice of lamenting more common in our Christian walk? Lamentation put simply is for the times that we feel completely helpless. Whether it is a loss of a loved one or a sickness that continues to ravage our bodies, lamentation gives us the chance to cry out to the Lord and tell Him just how much life is a struggle. But even doing that can give us pause, as believers. Is it really okay to tell the Lord that life is a struggle? If I do that, doesn’t that mean I’m sinning by being doubtful? Of course not! You’re just the chance to ask God the hard questions about life, pain, and death – which is a good thing.
A man named Job was in this same spot of harship. Job lost basically everything: his children (his future), his livestock (his present), and his good health (his past & present). And yet, how does Job respond? At first, he blessed the Lord, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). But then that changes. He says”
“Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb, and expire?... Why is light was given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes” (3:11, 20-26).
That is some deep stuff there from Job, but that’s the point. Life is a struggle. Eventually, Job does get to a place where he realizes that the Lord was working through Job’s pain in the background, but the Lord never rebukes Job for asking why life is a struggle. When you and I lament, God holds the same mindset. Actually, He longs to hear us cry out to Him. Not because He is some cruel dictator, but because He wants to work through the hard parts of our life for His glory.
At the end of it all, lament is indeed the passionate expression of our grief. But for believers, it is doing that to the Lord alone. So why should I make lamentation a part of my Christian walk? Simply put: it helps us to depend on the Lord. To more of an extent though, we need to lament more because it helps us to learn the value of grief and that the Lord longs to hear what you are feeling during your time of struggle. Lamentation is not a very well-known practice in the church, but according to Biblical figures, like Jeremiah, and books of the Bible, like Job, let us strive to make it more of a part of our Christian walk when we face times of grief.
Bratcher, Dennis. “Types of Psalms Classifying the Psalms by Genre.” CRI The Voice. Christian Resource Institute. 2018. https://www.crivoice.org/psalmtypes.html.
Vroegop, Mark. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament. Crossway, 2019.