Lamenting Like a Christian

It takes no particular religious conviction to complain about the world. But lament is different. The Bible shows us how God’s people throughout time have lamented as his people.

So what does it look like to lament as a Christian? How do we bring our sorrows and pain to God in a way that is specific to followers of Jesus?

Full of Faith

Biblical lament is full of faith. Those who lament know both the character and promises of God. They know God himself. At the same time, the pain and sorrow they suffer in the world don’t line up with what they know of God.

Here is the spark in the furnace of lament for each believer: My anguish in the world doesn’t match the reality I’d expect if the God I know had fully and finally set everything right.

That gap between our knowledge of God and our experience of the world is the space for faith. We need not have watertight answers or certain solutions, but we can turn to trust the one who holds all things together, knowing he is good and wise.

Broken By the Fall

Adam and Eve were the first king and queen of God’s world, and when they fell, everything came crashing down. All the groans ever groaned can be traced back to that original sin.

To be sure, some of the sickness and tragedy on earth may result directly from sinful deeds, evidence of God’s pointed judgment. But this is incredibly hard to discern; it’s safer to say that our hardships are traceable to the general broken state of the world we inherit and in which we participate.

The reasons for lament point to the brokenness of the world, and that brokenness points to sin. It’s exactly this simple: Without sin, the world—our bodies, our relationships, our surroundings—would not be corrupted in any way.

Jesus and the Kingdom

Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom to earth. He came as the perfect human king to rule on God’s throne. And that mission of rule and reconciliation was of necessity also a mission of suffering and sacrifice.

The imperfect and frequently despicable kings of Israel and Judah pointed to the coming of an incorruptible king. When Jesus began his ministry announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15), those steeped in the Old Testament would not have reacted with confusion but relief. He’s here!

Jesus’s miracles were brief, glorious windows into the emerging kingdom of God. The blind would see, the lame would walk, and the hungry would be fed. Sickness would flee, and the dead would rise. In those flickers of restoration we saw the curse being lifted by the corner and peeled back.

As the cross came closer, many around Jesus assumed he would pursue a political path to kingship. This excited some and angered many others. But Jesus spoke of death and resurrection, not coronation. He made it clear (to those with ears to hear) that a fully realized kingdom of God on earth would happen in the future, not immediately. Yet Jesus’s unmistakable resurrection also underlined the fact that his kingdom was imminent.

Final Fullness

Lament is our longing for this full and future kingdom to come now. It is our cry with the apostle John—“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

We want God’s kingdom to arrive in its final fullness with the rightful king on his throne. This king will bear the marks of this world in his scarred body. He himself has traveled a path of pain and agony. The bloody sweat at Gethsemane and the mournful cries on the cross bear witness to Jesus’s journey of lament.

When the end finally comes—when all hopes have been realized and the curse is no more—there will be no more need for lament. We will have our full and final comfort in the form of our strong and kind king. We will be at home and there will be no distance between our experience and our longings.

The Man of Sorrows—who bore our sin, who mourned and lamented in our place—makes our present-day lamenting possible. We lament as Christians when we cry out to God in our pain, trust him to keep his promises, and look ahead to the glorious kingdom that Jesus has secured for us.

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Solid Bible Promises for Times of Suffering

Creation groans, and we echo that same mournful tune.

We feel the Curse deep inside. We are broken people in a broken world, and no one avoids some measure of suffering. In my article on Lamentations 4, we saw the author arrive at the end of his lament with nothing but a promise of God. We too, at times, may feel like everything is stripped away. Our anguish seems like the most tangible element of life.

But we also have the promises of God! These are good gifts meant to sustain us and stoke our hope for the future.

Which Promises?

The Bible is stuffed with promises. However, we can’t claim every promise we find.

For example, some Bible promises are conditional. Consider Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” We cannot claim that God will meet our every desire unless we are delighting in the Lord.

Further, God made some promises to specific people at specific times (see Joshua 6:2). He made other promises to Israel, and we need to think carefully about whether they carry over to the church and/or individual Christians.

Where does this leave us? We still have many Bible promises that are meant for us. This article focuses on those which are helpful in the midst of suffering.

Promises for Sufferers

I’ve divided these promises into five categories. Learning, digesting, and even memorizing these verses will not eliminate pain or make suffering somehow desirable. But they will help us to trust in the Lord in dark times and to fix our eyes on Jesus.

God is with you

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

Suffering is often extremely personal and therefore isolating. In those times, we can treasure God’s presence with us. He is near to those in anguish, and he has promised never to leave or forsake his children. Nothing at all—not even this present suffering—will be able to separate us from God’s love for us in Christ.

God will comfort and rescue you

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Because God will not abandon us, and because he loves us, he will comfort us in the midst of turmoil and eventually pull us out. Though pain and suffering seem unending, for the children of God, they are not. God will restore and strengthen us, whether on this side of glory or the other.

God will use your suffering for your good

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

God is in the business of turning bad things to good. Affliction prepares us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, and our sufferings produce endurance, character, and hope. Our sufferings in themselves are not good, but God brings good out of them.

Everything will be made new

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–53)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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 21:3–4)

Our groaning bodies will put on immortality. Our new dwelling will be with God himself on a new earth. The mourning and crying and pain we experience now will then only be known as “former things.”

We will be forever with the Lord

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

The promises of a glorified body and a curse-free earth would be nothing without God’s eternal presence. The suffering we experience will be a distant, faint memory because we will live face-to-face forever with our Creator and Redeemer.

(Yes, I have listed Rev 21:3 twice. But it’s jaw-dropping, and we all probably need it twice.)

All By Grace

These promises are ours. But they are ours by grace. Our works deserve God’s wrath, not his blessing. These promises are given to us because we are the children of God, united to Jesus, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31–32)

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Banking on God’s Justice

What characteristic of God do you turn to for hope? Many people (with good reason) would mention his steadfast love. Others might point to his faithfulness or his sovereignty.

The author of Lamentations heads in a different direction. He banks on God’s justice.

God’s Justice and Control

We’ve already looked at the first half of Lamentations 3, so this article will focus on the second half of that chapter (Lamentations 3:34–66).

In verses 34–36 we read a list of things of which “the Lord does not approve.” Crushing prisoners, subverting lawsuits, and denying justice to people—God is utterly opposed to all of it.

One reason he can oppose these violations is that he is in control. No one can issue commands unless the Lord is behind it (verse 37). He brings both good and bad to those on earth (verse 38). Because he is just and sovereign, no one can claim ill treatment when they suffer punishment for their sins (verse 39).

Let Us Return to the Lord

We read something shocking in Lam 3:42: “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven.” We cannot bear to think of God not forgiving!

The order in this passage is crucial. The poet sees the surrounding destruction and devastation as evidence that God has not forgiven. This is the reason the people must return to the Lord! The author is NOT saying, we have returned and God has not forgiven. No—the abundant evidence of God’s anger is the reason the people must turn back to their Sovereign Lord. Because God has not forgiven, we must return!

God uses dramatic tactics to get through to his people. He pursues and kills them (verse 43). They cannot pray (verse 44). Their enemies taunt and destroy them (Lam 3:46–47). The people are panicking (verse 47). The author weeps uncontrollably because of the pitiful state of God’s people in Jerusalem (verses 48, 49, 51). The only relief from this sorrow will come when the Lord sees and takes notice of those who are broken-hearted (verse 50).

I’ve seen this truth in my life and I’ll bet you have too. We long for pleasant, peaceful times, but it is far too easy in those calm waters to forget God altogether. When the skies darken and the waves are high—then we realize we are not in charge, we are not self-sufficient. That shock brings us to our senses so that we soberly seek the Lord. In fact, that image of sobriety and inebriation is a little too accurate: prosperity and comfort often bring about a hedonistic stupor and a cloud of self-deception. This is why there are so many warnings about wealth in the Bible and why God uses suffering and sorrow to bring his people back to himself.

What does such a return to the Lord look like? It must include self-examination (verse 40) and confession of sin (verse 42). Genuine repentance occurs on the level of both affections and actions (“hearts and hands,” verse 41).

God Has Taken Up My Cause

The author of Lamentations writes more personally in verses 52–66. It seems he suffered much in his physical body (verses 52–54).

A wonderful story unfolds in this brief discourse! The author called on the name of the Lord (verse 55) and the Lord heard this cry (verse 56). God not only heard, but he came near and calmed the poet’s fears (verse 57). Let’s not rush past the kindness and mercy of God in this response—meeting this man in “the depths of the pit” and with just the reassurance he needed.

The author now uses God’s past response as fuel for future prayer. He knows God has taken up his cause (verse 58) and has seen all the violence of his enemies against him (verses 59–60). God has heard their taunts and their plots (verse 61). Because God is just, because he is in control, and because he has already come near, the author of Lamentations can ask the Lord to judge his cause (verse 59).

The poet has confidence that God will do exactly this, that he will repay his enemies (verse 64), curse them (verse 65), pursue them and destroy them (verse 66). God had been pursuing the Israelites (verse 43) in an effort to turn them back to himself. Now, according to his promise, God will pursue the enemies of Israel. The author hopes in the Lord because the Lord is, among other things, perfectly just.

Our Hope Also Lies in God’s Justice

Like the Israelites stuck in Jerusalem after the siege, our hope is tied to God’s justice. (It does not depend on his justice alone, but without God’s justice our hope crumbles.)

Christians believe that when Jesus died on the cross, he really took our sins upon himself. And because God is just, even though Jesus was perfect, those sins of ours demanded punishment. Our hope that we will not suffer judgment for our sins lies in the fact that God dealt with them—perfectly, finally—in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.

Additionally, when we grieve injustices in this world, we can still have hope. We can (and should) work for temporal justice for our neighbors near and far. And we can trust that God will deal with all sins according to his eternal justice.

God is kind. He is holy. He is patient and good and unchanging. He is also just, and his justice means that everything will be set right in the end. You can bank on that!

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How to Find Hope When Hope Has Perished

The book of Lamentations is not dripping with hope. I suspect many avoid the book because it seems so dreary and somber.

But there is hope for God’s people in Lamentations.

My Hope is Gone

Chapter 3 in Lamentations takes a different turn than chapter 1 or chapter 2. God’s judgment earlier was corporate, focused on Israel as a people. In chapter 3, things get personal.

Instead of mourning the destruction of the city or the loss of the temple, now the writer cries out at God’s attacks on his person. God has broken his bones (verse 4), made him dwell in darkness (verse 6), given him heavy chains (verse 7), and even shut out his prayer (verse 8). God is like a lion or a bear hiding in wait for him (verse 10); the writer is a target for God’s arrows (verses 12, 13).

In the start of this chapter, we have an inversion of the way we usually think about God on the side of his people. This writer sees God’s hand against him (verse 3), and instead of protection and joy God has brought him bitterness and tribulation (verse 5). This sorrowful cry escalates until his soul is bereft of peace and he has forgotten what happiness is (verse 17). At the peak of the lament, the writer confesses that both his endurance and his hope have perished (verse 18). Bleak, indeed!

This may seem like an off-limits prayer. Earlier chapters were filled with complaints about the state of the people and city after God brought judgment. Here the writer trims away all of the decorations and strips it down to this crushing truth: God has done terrible things to me.

I Will Yet Hope

The wonderful, memorable verses from Lamentations 3 must be read against this harsh background. What does a person of God do when hope has perished?

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.” (Lamentations 3:21–24)

The key to our understanding and application of verses 22–24 is found in verse 21. How do we harvest hope from a hopeless situation? We don’t. We remind ourselves (“call to mind”) of what is true that we cannot see.

Lamentations shows us that hope does not come from a change of circumstances. Rather, it comes from what you know to be true despite the situation in front of you. In other words, you live through suffering by what you believe, not by what you see or feel. (Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, page 110)

We look around and witness devastation, we feel God’s arrows pointing at our necks, but we know he is full of mercy. We know—from our own experiences walking with him and from countless episodes in the Bible—that God’s steadfast love never ceases. He is so, so faithful—great is his faithfulness!

How wonderful: God’s mercies are new every morning! This doesn’t mean that his mercies are different from one day to the next. Rather, his mercies are fresh every time the sun rises.

Right now is a good time to plan how you will call to mind what is needed. We store and practice and prepare now for the desperate times later. Reading and memorizing the Bible are more than appropriate disciplines here, but so is something like gathering stories of God’s faithfulness from your own life and the lives of others. Ask your friends to remind you how faithful and loving God is. Christian biographies can also be a good source of stories about God’s faithfulness.

Seeking the Lord in Hope

The first half of Lamentations 3 ends with instruction on how to seek the Lord in hope. The punch line here may not be what you’d like to see, but it is anchored in God’s character.

The author tells us, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). Among other things, this means that seeking the Lord may involve more than waiting, but it does not involve less. As much as it grates against our human impulses, we must wait on the Lord. This is a good practice for God’s people to learn even from their youth (verse 27).

Why can we wait? Why can we rebuke our flesh when it insists that things must happen right now? Soak in the beautiful answer found in Lam 3:31-33. God may cause grief to his people, but that is not what makes his heart beat (verse 33). He “will not cast off forever” (verse 31); “he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (verse 32).

With the author of Lamentations, we must return to the theme of God’s steadfast love. His steadfast love is the grounds for our hope; his Son Jesus has secured our hope.

While the author of Lamentations felt the judgment of God personally for his transgressions, Jesus felt the judgment of God personally for our transgressions. Jesus suffered, cried out, and waited on the Lord—all for us. He hoped that God would raise him from the dead to new life. And that same new life awaits those who follow this same suffering, steadfast, risen king. This is the real hope everyone needs.

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Links for the Weekend (4/9/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

To Those Who are Frustrated with the Church

Colin Smith writes to those who have felt like giving up on the local church. Perhaps you’ve felt that pull and would benefit from this article.

The church is made up of ordinary people who are in the process of being redeemed, all of us sinners in the process of being renewed. It was Augustine who described the church as “a hospital for sinners.” He said it would be very strange if people were to criticize hospitals because the patients were sick. The whole point of the hospital is that people are there because they’re sick, and they haven’t yet recovered.

Serving Christ When Everyone Needs You

Ann Swindell reflects on what God has been teaching her in this difficult pandemic time. When we feel pulled by family and work and ministry, how do we respond?

I felt like I was serving in a hundred ways but missing out on many of the gifts of relationship and normal life that helped make that service joyful and rewarding. It all felt like too much, and those tears at the kitchen window revealed both my frustration and exhaustion.

My circumstances and responsibilities wouldn’t change anytime soon. But my heart could change, and it needed to.

A Conversation with Pastor Tim Keller about Hope in Times of Fear

Here’s a podcast episode where Russell Moore interviews Tim Keller. Keller was diagnosed with cancer last year and has written a book called Hope in Times of Fear. I find an encouraging freshness in listening to someone who has a palpable sense of their mortality talk about trusting in Christ. Maybe you will too.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Look and See, O Lord! If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Maggie A for her help rounding up links this week.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (11/27/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

How to Harm a Heavy Heart

Vaneetha Risner writes about listening to and grieving with friends who are going through difficult times. I appreciated the way she discussed the Christian practice of lament.

Sometimes we aren’t in a setting to lament together through Scripture, but we can apply those principles to everyday conversation. We can invite our friends to talk about their feelings without judgment, beginning the conversation by saying, “This must be so hard. It would have opened a whole host of struggles for me. How are you feeling?” Sharing our own battles and temptations invites others to speak, knowing they won’t be judged.

Our Only Hope In Life and Death

This short, solid reminder about a Christian’s true hope cheered my soul.

This can bring us great comfort, knowing that hope is not lost, that our hope is in Christ alone. We will continue to struggle with the restrictions, but placing our faith in God means we know His promises still stand, that He is sovereign over the world, and that our lives are lived unto Him, every day. 

Should We Expect Our Jobs to Make Us Happy?

We’re all prone to find our identity and happiness in unfit places. Barnabas Piper writes about why our work can’t bear the weight we often want it to.

Work— like many other things in life- is a means of finding happiness. It’s designed by God and is a good thing. It’s a good hook for the right things, but too weak to hold our hopes for total happiness.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

Not this week, but last week on the blog we published an article I wrote called How to Encourage Those Who Grieve. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.