Lament - A Path to Joy in Sorrow - Part 1
I don’t think I have ever preached from the book of Lamentations before, but now I think I really ought to. Lament is a biblical word; in fact, a whole book is devoted to it. We need to learn how to lament in a God glorifying way. The Bible is not void of countless stories and periods of godly lament. We can learn to lament in this season and moment in history.
It seems to me we are in a season of great trials and temptation. An era of calamities upon calamities, yet our God remains on the throne. We are just about emerging from a global pandemic that almost imprisoned and paralysed the whole world in fear. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented collapse of some mega churches, and superstar Christian leaders falling away due to character flaws and hidden sins coming to light.
As if all of that was not enough, we are now entering a period of living cost crisis, where families are having to choose between heating and eating. Then suddenly, the relative peace Europe has experienced since 1945 was snatched by Putin with the eleven day old war in Ukraine, which political analysts are predicting may go on for months or years. Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania are overrun by millions of Ukrainian refugees seeking shelter from Russian bombs. We’ve seen extraordinary human kindness displayed in the midst of this war already, as well as the ugly reality of discrimination and racism against African students trying to flee this conflict. What is going on? What is our world becoming?
As a church we have recently lost two of our dearly loved members, who in themselves were pillars in the formative years of the church and remained pillars until they breathed their last. We are still mourning and grieving their loss, though comforted that they are now with the Lord in heaven.
Lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It is a form of personal or corporate protest. It gives voice to our deepest hurts, pain, grief and sorrows, instead of bottling them all up inside. It’s a healthy way of processing our emotions. Unlike a lament that is lashing out in frustration, godly lament is aimed at God. “In his book (Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy), Mark Vroegop defines lament as, “a prayer of pain that leads to trust,” – Rob Brockman. The Art of Lament (TGC, March 2021)
The complaint, sometimes anger and bitterness we express in a lament is directed towards God, not because we have given up on Him, but precisely because we know it is only in Him we can find redress and hope. A Godly lament always includes, not just our protest, but also a petition or our “ask” of God and ends with praise. Praise, because we know God hears us and we anticipate His favourable response.
A good example is Job. After he lost everything he had, including his children in one single day, he cried out in his first of two laments: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived’!” (Job 3:3, NIV), “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11, NIV). Here, Job is expressing exactly how he felt. Notice that he frames his lament in questions. He had searched himself and could not honestly understand why he deserved all the calamities that befell him. “There is nothing left for Job but to lament. He refuses to incriminate himself falsely, and he refuses to blame or abandon God. But he does not hesitate to express his anguish in the strongest terms.” - TOW Project
Job’s lament, his questions, were directed to God. When his friends continued to argue with him instead of mourning with him, Job made it clear who his lament was directed towards: “Is my complaint directed to a human being?” (Job 21:4, NIV), he asked his friends. Job did not stop at complaining, his lament reflected his deepest yearning for a return to God’s favour, blessings, and protection. “How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me” (Job 29:2, NIV). In spite of all his sufferings, notwithstanding friends who pierced instead of soothing, and a wife who encouraged him to abandon his faith in God, Job was steadfast in his faith. He declared: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27, NIV).
Can I encourage us to be honest with God about how we feel? To not try to hold things together in our own strength, often pretending things are good when they are not. To stop saying “it is well” when we should be saying “it will be well”. To stop masking our pain and sorrows with new images and posts on social media that suggests we are having the best time of our lives, when in reality we are drowning in depression. Godly lament gives us a way and a place to voice our confusion, a way of protesting about our condition and ultimately thanking and praising God in expectation of an answer from our loving father.
In Him, we find answers to our sufferings. Sometimes we find not the answers we seek, but the answer that helps us know more about the sovereignty of God. Answers that don’t explain our pain but reveal God in the midst of pain. The type of answers Job found when God finally spoke to him: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3, NIV). We find God when we engage in godly lament.