Regularly in this
life we experience personal situations of mourning: death, disease, addiction,
broken relationships, and financial hardship. In the Scriptures God has given
us a means to process our feelings of grief, anger, and mourning. God has graciously offered us the biblical
category of faithful lament.
Lament is not about
losing faith. Lament is not about blaming
God. Lament is not blasphemy. Lament is not disrespectful. Lament is not whining. Lament is not
wallowing in misery.
Lament is an act of
faith. Talking to God is a way of acknowledging God exists; therefore it is an
act of faith. Lament is an honest conversation with God. In lament we name our
pain, misery, and disillusionment. In
lament we claim the promise that God hears us. We are not alone, and God listens
to our prayer. In lament we lay out our
questions. In lament we cling to what we
know, and admit that sometimes the things we know are few.
Two things keep us
from lament. First, many of us feel pressure
to be positive all the time. In church
and spiritual contexts many of us feel pressure to put on a happy face. We need
to give each other permission to not always be positive and happy.
Second, many of us
feel pressure that our faith should always resolve. We don’t like loose ends.
We struggle with unanswered questions.
Put differently, many of us like books and movies where all the plot
lines resolve. Lament is not like that. We need to admit that in this life we
will not always have answers.
Let’s turn to the
book of Lamentations. In the sixth century BC the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem.
The prophets interpreted this as God’s judgment on centuries of idol worship as
well as various forms of immorality. To the Hebrews no place symbolized safety
and security more than Jerusalem, particularly Solomon’s temple. But in 586 BC the
Babylonians destroyed and burned both the city and the temple. In the siege
leading up to the destruction, people resorted to unspeakable things. Perhaps,
most noteworthy among these was cannibalism.
Most believe the
prophet Jeremiah, who experienced this invasion firsthand, wrote Lamentations. Today
Jews customarily read it once a year. Maybe we should learn something from
their commitment to regularly spending time in laments. One disclaimer before
reading though: the prophets interpreted the destruction of Jerusalem as divine
judgment. We should be careful not to
interpret all pain and suffering as divine judgment.
Let me read selections
of Lamentations before focusing on chapter 3.
1:1 How lonely sits
the city that was full of
people! How like a widow has she
become, she who was great among the
nations! She who was a princess
among the provinces has become a
slave. (Laments always begin with an honest
description of the situation. Notice how
honest this is. Too often nowadays, we
like to clean things up and give a positive spin.)
2:11 My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the
ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my
people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city. 12 They
cry to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint like a wounded man in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out on their
4:9 Happier were the
victims of the sword than the
victims of hunger, who
wasted away, pierced by lack of the fruits of the
field. 10 The hands of compassionate women
have boiled their own children; they became
their food during the destruction of the daughter of my
These verses should
encourage us to be honest. It’s okay to make a list for God. Write it down. Say
it out loud. This is the first thing we learn about laments. Whatever you are
concerned about -- tell God. It’s okay
to be honest. Surround yourself with
people with whom you can be real.
is not all doom and gloom, however. The book reaches its climax in chapter 3.
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.” 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 bear the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For
the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the
abundance of his steadfast love; for
he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
Faithful lament in the Bible follows a sequence. Orientation, disorientation,
and reorientation. The present way things are is shattered. A time of disillusionment
and sorrow comes. But the writer longs for the time when things will be
different. It’s a simple sequence. How things were. How things are. How we want
things to be.
In the time of
disorientation the writer lists the things known. This is the second thing we
learn about laments. Name your concerns or what you don’t know. And then name
what you do know. Jeremiah doesn’t understand all that has happened, but this
he does know. God is love. “The
steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.” I don’t know everything about God. Much
of God is so mysterious. But I know God is love. I know God has a deep love for
his people and his creation. God is
faithful. “Great is your faithfulness.” God does not forget. God does not
abandon us. God is not removed from us. God will not cast off forever. And God is good. “The LORD is good to those
who wait for him.” God is not evil.
In times of grief, I
don’t know much. But I know God is love,
God is faithful, God is good. Knowledge
and facts can puff up, and in times of tragedy, our ready answers can fall like
a house of cards. But I know God is love, God is faithful, God is good. These
three things keep me anchored, even if they don’t make everything better right
away. They keep my faith from disintegrating.
In times of sadness
we long for a time that is better. In times of pain we worry, “Will things be like
this forever?” Laments
say yes. Things will get better.
This is the third
thing we learn about laments. Laments express hope in a renewed future. Laments
hope for a better time. Things will not be this way forever. Someday, we don’t know when, but someday
things will be better. A new day is
coming. We anticipate that new day. We long for it. Laments give us a hopeful
trajectory. We move in a direction of hope, not despair.
And you know what? Jeremiah
was right. The LORD was faithful. The Hebrews outlasted Babylon. After 70 years
a remnant of Jews returned to their land. They rebuilt the temple. More than
that, many years later a greater temple came: Jesus Christ. And when he was torn down, he came back to
life. Jesus conquered death, and in him
we too can conquer death. This is the
basis of our hope.
That is where
faithful lament takes us. It’s an
ancient biblical practice we need to recapture. We should not live lives of
pessimism or cynicism, but it’s okay to lament every now and then. Give
yourself permission to not always be positive, especially when things are bad.
First, be honest. Name
your pain. Say it out loud. Talk to God. Two, in the midst of uncertainty, remind
yourself what you do know: God is love. God is faithful. God is good. Third,
take comfort in the fact that someday things will be better. Live in that hope.
Until Jesus comes
back, life will have its ups and downs. We’ll receive difficult phone calls. We’ll
be shocked by things in the news. We will grieve. But we do not grieve like
those who have no hope. Because of Jesus, we grieve differently. We grieve in
faith, in hope, and in love.
sermon by J. P. Conway, Acklen Avenue Church of
Christ, June 28, 2015