Learning to lament: a basic discipleship tool

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a (planned) series of articles on the subject of lamenting. “Man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), so the disciple of the Lord Jesus is wise to search the Scriptures and prepare themselves to lament when the weight of the world begins to crush their spirit.

This morning I had just finished my regular phone call with my friend, Dan. I had related to him some of the burdens that were heavy on me, and as I ended the call, I began to reflect more on the sorrows and the disappointments that were currently on my radar screen. And so, my mind turned to the subject of lamenting, and I began to pour my heart out to the Lord.

THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE LAMENT

Ours is a broken world. This is not a profound statement to anyone who has lived two or three decades and who has reflected at all on life. Our world is broken and we ourselves are broken, and the evidence for this brokenness increases daily. The follower of Jesus has a ready explanation for the fractures in the world. A Christian worldview acknowledges that, when Adam sinned and ate the forbidden fruit and rebelled against the Lord God, sin entered the world, and the “very good” creation was immediately and entirely polluted by sin. Death and sweat and pain and failure and malice and conflict and disappointment and fear rushed into the world through the hole ripped by sin, and the world has continued to accumulate sin and the effects of sin ever since. So, the Christian explains the evil and pain in the world as the consequences of sin entering the world when man rebelled against God.

But even though man has rebelled against God, and even though man’s “heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9); even though “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), God is gracious toward mankind. “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). Man has willfully rebelled against the Lord of the universe, yet God has responded with grace in many different ways. One of the ways that God has responded with grace is by giving believers the gift of the lament.

This may seem like an unusual way to refer to lamentation. How can a lament be a gift of God’s grace? After all, isn’t a lament a cry to God, a prayer to God basically complaining about the difficulty and the sorrow of this life in His world? No, this is an overly simple view of a lament. In fact, in a lament the Lord of the universe gives His creature the privilege of calling out to Him and of pouring out his emotions to his God. The Lord is aware of man’s weakness and his inability. “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). And knowing that man is fearful and frail, our God has given us the lament so that we can confess our fears and failures and frailty to Him and feel the strong arms of His comfort and consolation. “The LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). But His presence does not only give us confidence in combat, but in lament, His presence surrounds us with compassion and comfort. (See 2 Cor. 1:3-5.)

God’s grace is manifested in the lament by giving the child of God a God-approved means of expressing to the Lord emotions of sorrow and loss and discouragement and disappointment with the knowledge that the Lord is fully engaged in the communication. The child of God lifts up a lament and pours out his emotions and sorrows, and God hears and empathizes. You see, there are two participants in the lament. The disciple of Jesus lifts his cry to the Lord, and the Lord actively hears and actively receives the disciple’s cry. The child of God is not complaining to no one. He is not trying to vent his emotions to no one, like some psychological trick. No! Rather, the child of God cries out to his Abba Father of the burdens of life. Knowing that the God who permits the lament is the God who hears the lament and who feels the emotions of His child’s lament, gives great emotional power to the lament.

In Psalm 6, David is in the midst of a lament. We see the telltale words “How long?” in verse 3. So, David pours out his complaint to the LORD, knowing that the LORD hears his cry. And then, toward the end of the psalm, the answer comes.

Depart from me, all you who do iniquity,
For the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my supplication,
The LORD receives my prayer.
10 All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed;
They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed.

“The LORD has heard, the Lord has heard, the LORD receives my prayer.” Here we see the beauty and the grace of the lament as the LORD hears His child. And in the same way that the Lord heard David’s lament, so the Lord will hear the lament of any of His children. The believer has committed his life to follow the Lord Jesus, God’s Son, through this vale of tears, and the Lord has graciously granted the believer the blessing of the lament that allows the believer to cry out to his God and persevere through this world until the Lord calls him home.

SDG                 rmb                 2/18/2022                   #490