Learning to Lament

by Chris Surber

GriefWe’ve forgotten how to grieve. In our efforts to sterilize and glamorize our lives we have ostracized anguish. It isn’t allowed in our smoke filled light show worship services because it’s frankly a downer. It’s not welcomed in our mass marketed DVD Bible Studies because it doesn’t draw crowds.
Today we want to happy and in the process we’ve forgotten that God is usually found most easily in our pain. We usually move too quickly through pain and grief. We treat it like a hindrance to spiritual growth rather than the beautiful opportunity for spiritual growth that it is.
In fact, grief is a necessary part of connecting human pain to divine healing and God’s purposes in it.  “Christians grieve, just like all other human beings.  But the major and all-important difference is that Christians grieve in hope.” (James R. White, Grieving: Our Path Back to Peace) We need to learn how to lament! That is, we must actively grieve before the Lord because it is a necessary part of the process of connecting personal pain to the divine plan and the will of God for us.
When we suffer the loss of a loved one there is a natural reaction of sorrow and sadness along with the possibility of many other emotional responses. When we are personally attacked or slandered or when someone we love is the victim of violence or abuse it’s ok and even good to allow ourselves to suffer for a season. A lot of Christians today are trapped in unprocessed grief and pain because rather than finding God in their pain through active lament, they glossed over it to get “happy” again. Sometimes we need to weep.[ene_ptp] There is a great tradition of lament in the Scriptures.  Public and private cries of pain and sorrow abound in the Bible. In Psalm 56:8 the Psalmist writes, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?”  Lament is a normative part of the life of the child of God.  The local community of faith is called to be a community of healing.  The local church is more than merely a place for love to be shown.
The calling of God on the people of God in community extends well beyond the borders of showering one another with the love of God. In his book, Being the Body, Charles Colson writes, “Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting.  It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and pursuit of righteousness.”   The Church is a place of horizontal connection with one another in our grief and suffering, and vertical connection with God in all things. The fellowship of believers is not only a place for discussions of salvation and broad Bible doctrine—it is a place for lament.
Lament is the uncommonly tapped resource of God’s people on the path of discipleship. Yet, it is a recurrent theme in the Bible. As evidenced by Scripture, lament is not simply a passive acceptance of the will of God or of the presence of pain in one’s life.  Rather, it is an active response to the external stimuli of pain and sorrow in direct connection with one’s faith in God.
In other words, it is a natural part of the process of knowing God and following Christ. Contrary to the stoic or snide, happy attitudes found among so many people today, lament in times of trial and grief is common, almost assumed in the Scripture.
Expressing our pain through prayers, cries, and groans of lament does not divorce us from God.  It is an integral part of honest dialogue with one’s creator.  The biblical genre of lament is abundant and rich, both theologically in the expression of the heart of God for those who suffer, and practically, giving insight and examples for those who suffer today.
If you are in pain today, cry out to God in anguish! If you are sorrowful, groan with utterances only God can comprehend. My friend, don’t fall into the trap of much of modern church life that you have to be happy to know God. He is very often found in our pain, where He is there, offering healing and love.

“A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down. My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.” (Psalm 102:1-12 ESV)

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One Comment

  1. Chris:
    A really fine and important word. We all need to realize the necessity of lamenting and how the Scriptures note its importance, especially in the Psalms.

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