Lament is a Biblical concept often ignored by Christians…and looked upon as a negative in our spiritual walk. I wonder why?
Is it because some of us are just too comfortable that we run away from cries of anguish. Is it because we have forgotten the Biblical injunction to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep?
Mostly we avoid it, given a choice. At best we might sometimes pluck out of its context Lamentations 2: 22- 23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Are we shocked by the way Biblical laments point the finger of blame towards God? Is that why we find the topic of lamenting uncomfortable?
Jesus: Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV) During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
He quoted from Psalm 22, showing His aloneness from God: Psalm 22:1-2(NIV) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
David in Psalm 13:1-6 (NIV) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my does will rejoice when I fall. 5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
Wess Daniels has a helpful reflection on Psalm 13: “The important thing about Lament is that our suffering, our darkness, and disorientation is “brought to speech” in relationship with God. There is nothing you experience, no pain too deep, no sense of loss so tragic that you ought not to just take it to God but to make it God’s business to transform the situation.”
Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NIV) Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong
So even if we think the problem is God’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think the problem is an enemy’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think it’s our corporate or personal fault we should take that too to God and cry for restoration.
Let’s go to the book of JOB and see what we can learn there: What are we told about Job?
Job’s Prosperity: Job 1:1-5 (NIV) 1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. 4 His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.
The heavenly ‘discussion:’ Job 1:6-12 (NIV) One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
Job’s first adversity: 1: Job 1:13-19 (NIV) One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
Job’s response: Job 1:20-21 (NIV) 20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
Notice what he did: first, he looked back to his birth. Then he looked ahead to his death.
Finally, Job looked up and uttered a magnificent statement of faith “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.“ (vs. 21).
“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (vs. 22).
We see a good explanation of God’s sovereignty: He gives and He takes away. God either causes or allows all events in our life. I believe much of it falls into the category of “allows.” He allows nature to reign. He allows natural law to reign..explaining hurricanes, floods, sickness and disease.
Job’s second adversity: The voice of the accuser: Job 2:1-8 (NIV) On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 3 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” 7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
The voice of the quitter (2:9). His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
This was exactly what Satan wanted Job to do, and Job’s wife put the temptation before her husband.
Job 2:10 (NIV) “He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. “
With God’s permission, Satan afflicted Job with a disease we cannot identify. Whatever it was, the symptoms were terrible: severe itching (Job 2:8), insomnia (v. 4), running sores and scabs (v. 5), nightmares (vv. 13-14), bad breath (19:17), weight loss (v. 20), chills and fever (21:6), diarrhea (30:27), and blackened skin (v. 30).
When his three friends first saw Job, they did not recognize him! Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to offer comfort and they spend most of their time telling Job that he is a terrible sinner due to this pain he is going through. Elihu, the younger of the four, grows impatient near the end of the book because they do not do a very good Job convicting Job.
In this marvelous book, we see Job in a variety of postures with very specific words being said:
Job 3:1-3 (NIV) After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2 He said: 3 “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’
Job 3:11 (NIV) “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?
Job 3:16 (NIV) Or why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day?
Job 23:1-5 (NIV) Then Job replied: 2 “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. 3 If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! 4 I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.
Job 23:10 (NIV) But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
God speaks: Job 38:1-3 (NIV) Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Job 40:1-2 (NIV) The LORD said to Job: 2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Job 40:8 (NIV) “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Job 42:1-17 (NIV) Then Job replied to the LORD: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
7 After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves.
My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. 10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought [allowed] upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
12 The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.
Some closing thoughts: have we in our relative comfort concentrated our worship too much on the language of praise and thanksgiving? Is that because we are influenced by the language of success and the cultural pursuit of happiness?
Therefore, we equate unhappiness with failure or lack of faith? And in individual and corporate prayer, when we happen to feel OK, we avoid the language of sorrow, confusion and anger?
Laments use pain, anguish, anger and confusion in a passionate search for some answering comfort or sense of hope. We have to learn to lament and to do it in community, whether that is on our own behalf or as a way of speaking for others in much worse situations.
It isn’t about how things ought to be. It’s about how things are. It’s about people shot by terrorists in Paris. It’s about people living in fear. It’s about situations so dreadful that only God can change things and people and bring hope.
Lament yells deep from an anguished heart – a raw wail that in itself is a prayer (story of family that had a stillborn child just weeks before its birth…it hurt…I told them to stop on an empty road as they drove home…yells at God…express whatever emotion they were feeling at the time…and then trust in God to be with them every second of their life from that moment forward as they would deal with the hurt, pain, sorrow the rest of their life.)
If we care at all about the depths of other people’s suffering around the world, what other language can we use except that of lament? Do we really think that it’s not OK to yell out at God with feelings like that? That God somehow isn’t strong enough to cope with our anger?
Let’s allow Lamentations 3: 31-33 to have the last word: “For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes [allows] grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”