If you’ve been around any kind of church culture for very long, you’ve heard that the world is broken and Fallen as a result of sin, but there’s something else you may not have heard.
When we actually experience the effects of the world’s brokenness in our lives, what it’s common to hear is that as followers of Jesus we’re supposed to have joy, trust God, and rejoice in our suffering. It’s true, these responses to suffering are in the Bible, but they’re also only part of the story.
See, there’s this little-known book in the Bible called Lamentations. The author is in extreme suffering and surrounded by the worst things you can imagine, and he writes this book of poems. He does make a few statements about God’s sovereignty and goodness, but they’re few and far between, and they are NOT what this book is about. This is a book of lament.
We don’t have that word in our everyday vocabulary, which may tell us something, but lament means “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” It’s associated with wailing, moaning, and sobbing. Hear me, this is not complaining, self-pity, or misguided pessimism. This is the expression of deep sorrow and anguish. And there’s a whole book of it in the Bible.
Lamentations is written by someone who does trust God but is also in immeasurable grief - and he expresses that grief and vocalizes it to God. This is lament. The book shows us that it’s possible to trust God and at the same time be in intense suffering (without being in a constant state of rejoicing). In fact, the very last words of this book are NOT words of hope. They’re a pained and desperate plea before God.
So lament is is not about finding joy in suffering or turning hardship into something good. Lament is an expression of sorrow when sorrow is the appropriate response. God created the world to be good, but it has been broken. As followers of Jesus, we have hope that transcends circumstances and assures us that the sorrow of our present reality is not the end of the story. But it’s also true that things in the world are not as they should be. We can have joy despite the pain, grief, and sorrow in life, but that’s not always the example the Bible gives us.
Jesus himself, even when he knew that he was about to raise him from the dead, wept when his friend Lazarus died. And when Jesus was about to be crucified, though he fully trusted God and knew the good purposes in it, was in such agony that he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt 26:38).
There are many more examples, but the point is that even in the midst of trusting God’s goodness and having faith, lament is also entirely appropriate for the people of God.
So let’s remember to give space for it in times of hardship and pain. Let’s not be too quick to require joy in times of suffering. And let’s weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Maybe then we’ll understand a bit more about our Jesus, who was himself “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).