Suffering is a reality of this broken world. Harold Senkbeil says, “God’s pristine creation—with no suffering, no death, and no destruction—is now long gone. This earth is still a delightful place to live. But everywhere we look, our beautiful world is filled with misery, hardship, sickness, calamity—and death.” Calamity hits us all at some point. When that happens, how should we respond?
As individuals, we have our own way of processing suffering, but how do we process suffering corporately? Sin often moves beyond individuals and infects entire communities. Jonah’s sin also put the sailors in the storm (Jonah 1:4). Christians are even said to suffer together, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Membership in the body of Christ brings shared suffering. Grief, then, becomes corporate, not just personal. In light of this, how can churches process corporate pain in a way that brings unity and builds faith? They learn to lament.
What is Lament?
“Lament is the biblical language of corporate grief.” Mark Vroegop says that lament is “how the people of God mourn the brokenness of the world.” Lament is a way of prayerfully bringing our pain to God. David does this in Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” He brings his pain to God in prayer. Lament is key to God’s people processing grief.
Every one of my doctor’s appointment starts with this question, “So, where’s the problem?” Then I point out all the places I feel pain. Why do we tell doctors where it hurts? Senkbeil says, “You list your complaints because you know your condition should receive attention. It may not go away; some of the symptoms may remain. But you’ve gone to someone who can do something about it.” It’s appropriate to bring our complaints to God because he can provide the necessary treatment.
Lament because we do not have answers.
David’s lament in Psalm 13 has questions without answers. Sometimes life just does not make sense. Sometimes, even when things make sense, they still hurt. We can have a theology of sin that explains why people do cruel things to each other, but when we live through the cruelty, our hearts still bleed. Lament is a place for questions of “why?” and “for how long?”.
Through lament, God invites us to be brutally honest. To bring the heart-wrenching pain and ask him, “why?”. Habakkuk prayed, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab 1:2). As a loving Father, God embraces us in our pain, and as a wise counselor, he is patient with our questions. Lament helps us bring these painful questions to God.
Lament because God hears.
One way we care for each other is by listening. It is easy but deadly to bottle up grief. A listening ear, however, is therapeutic. When someone listens, it shows they care. That is what we need most often when we are in pain – someone who cares enough to sit with us.
God invites us to open the bottle and pour out our hearts. Vroegop says, “Lament talks to God even if it’s messy. This requires faith. Silence is easier but unhealthy. Lament prays through hardship.” Praying through hardship helps, not just because we get things off our chest, but because God gives us his ear, and we give him our hearts. “Because of Jesus, you can be certain that you have a loving Father to whom you can turn to list your complaints and misery—just as he did on his cross” (Senkbeil). God listens when we lament.
Lament because there is hope.
This past August, NBA players boycotted playoff games. After years of raising awareness, advocating against systemic racism and police brutality, nothing had changed. I remember listening to players speak about how hopeless they felt – that whatever they did, there was no promise of change.
We do not always have solutions, but in Jesus, we always have hope. Lament helps us grieve under the shadow of the cross and therefore grieve in hope.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Jeremiah wrote these words in the middle of a desolated Jerusalem. The hope of this lament is not that circumstances will get better but that God is faithful. No matter how dark the night is, his steadfast love and mercy are always there to meet his people in the morning. Therefore hope, even in lament, is not foolish.
A Faith-Filled Response
Lament builds faith because it brings us to Jesus. Senkbeil explains, “Even though you see no available remedy, you are not shouting into an empty void when you pray. Though you are in distress, you can place yourself—your body and soul and all things—into his care, believing that for Jesus’ sake, your Father in heaven fervently loves you and will see you through your present suffering. Lamenting your hurt but trusting his cross-shaped love, you can confidently ask him to sustain you through all your days in faith-filled hope.” Lament is rooted in faith. In all the circumstances that bring us to lament, Jesus Christ holds us close. Lament is a faith-filled response to calamity that helps Christians grieve together, finding hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.