As I continue to ruminate on Biblical lament, I want to clarify and develop what this practice is and what it is not. Lament is new for many people, including me, and this short post is intended to clear up confusion and reduce unhelpful caricatures.
Lament is Not Unusual
Judging by the Biblical record, lament is a common type of prayer for God’s people. Roughly one third of the Psalms contain aspects of lament, there is an entire book called Lamentations, and laments show up in other places in Scripture. The Israelites lamented their harsh treatment in Egypt (Exodus 2:23–25), Hannah lamented her barrenness (1 Samuel 1:10, 15), and Jesus lamented the rebellion in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34–35). Significantly, Jesus himself lamented on the cross (Matthew 27:46).
The existence of lament Psalms and the book of Lamentations show us that lament was not reserved for occasional, tragic events. Lament is appropriate in those drastic times, but it was also part of the ongoing, regular worship of God’s people. As those living under the weight of the curse, these portions of Scripture give us words for our groaning (Romans 8:22–23).
Lament is Not Natural
It doesn’t take much for humans to grumble against the Lord. From small frustrations and disappointments to large tragedies and sorrows, our impulse is to find fault.
When we meet hardship, our natural state is grumbling. But it takes faith to lament. While grief may be the trigger for lament, its foundation is the goodness and sovereignty of God. Bringing our anguish and mourning to God wouldn’t make sense if he weren’t listening, caring, powerful, and similarly grieving at the broken state of the world.
Lament is Not Grumbling
Lament is a difficult practice for some Christians because they’ve been told from their earliest days not to complain. They should swallow their sadness and anger, put on a happy face, and be thankful.
But this betrays an important misunderstanding. Both grumbling and lament are examples of complaining—one is prohibited in the Bible and one is not.
Lament, properly understood, is not a rebellious raised fist. Lament is a complaint on the bent knees of faith.
Lament is Not Pessimistic
I sense that some people get tired of hearing about lament. We get it, lament is important. But must you focus so much on the bad stuff?
A fair question! I hope that in my personal relationships I am not overly mournful. However, it strikes me that lament is a very natural, honest response to living in a fallen world. Just as thanksgiving should be a regular occurrence for Christians, so should lament.
Lament is not pessimistic, because while it contains complaints it does not end there. The result of lament should be hopeful trust in the Lord. Those who think lament is wallowing in sadness have an incomplete understanding of the practice.
Lament is Not UnChristian
Lament is not only an ancient Jewish practice. Rightly understood, it is an explicitly Christian one.
In addition to godly complaint, lament involves bold requests and, ultimately, trusting the Lord. As Mark Vroegop explains, Christians know that God is good and that he keeps his promises—he is trustworthy. The crucified, resurrected, and exalted Jesus is the key to Christian lament, turning honest expressions of grief into worshipful trust.
Lament is Not Forever
Certain parts of our Christian experience will continue and even grow through eternity. Fellowship, thanksgiving, and singing fall in this category.
But lament will cease. We should learn and practice it now, but one day there will be no use for lament any more.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
There will be no more mourning or crying or pain. There will be no more curse because of sin. We will not feel the aches of loss and decay and desperation that are so much a part of our current lives. Be honest—it’s hard to imagine such an existence!
But this is the great end of lament. When we lament, what we long and pray and strive for is not just a resolution to the particular pain or grief we are feeling. Because of the great work of Jesus for us, in lament we stretch out for the end of all loss and brokenness.