Christian Lament (June 2009)

“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me He turns His hand again and again the whole day long.”    (Lamentations 3: 1-3)

It seems like Christians have a reputation for being stoics, unwilling to admit pain and suffering. No doubt some of this is due to the fact that Christians do try to bow to God’s will, striving to accept from His hand both good and evil. There is nothing so lovely as a suffering believer, embracing what God has sent and allowing no room in her heart for rebellion against Him.

But, thankfully, that is only one side of suffering. If that was all God expected of His children when they suffer we would not have the book of Job or Lamentations or so many of the Psalms in our Bible. Our Savior felt human woe and pain, drinking the bitter cup of suffering all the way down. He knows what it feels like to be bowed down under the weight of sorrow. He does not expect His children to deny the grief that is life in this fallen world. He does not ask us to put on our happy face and pretend like all is well when, in fact, it is not.

So He gives us lament. I have lived in Job and Lamentations and Psalm 55 the last two months and there is no better place to be. These are cries of anguish unlike any other, springing from a heart that is sinking under the weight of darkness. All is not well. Why would God bring such pain? How can He look upon His children in distress and do nothing to help them? Has He not promised His grace and mercy? Before I lost my babies I read these laments and I would shudder to hear them – astonished at the boldness of David and Job. But now they are what I need. They give me words to express my own sorrow to the Lord and I know I am not rebelling but rather fleeing to God with my pain.

That is what makes lament so different from unbelieving rebellion. When I lament I am taking my sorrow to God. I am telling Him that I have nowhere else to turn. He is my only hope and strength, even when I don’t hope and even when I have lost my strength. My belief in Him fails. My faith grows weary and falters. But who else will hear me? Who else has the words of life? Where else will I go? David says that God has abandoned him but still he clings to Him, the only One who can save. Job brings his case before God. “I have lived faithfully before you all my life. I have not strayed from the path of righteousness. And this is how you repay my goodness. You pile on bitterness and pain until I wish for my own death.” And yet he still says what must be the most amazing and terrifying words in all of Scripture, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

Christian burial is the last and greatest form of lament. Death has taken my children. The promise of Christ to conquer death is nowhere to be seen when we visit that precious grave. His power seems absent, His presence gone. And yet we buried Ebenezer and Hannah. We buried them in the sure and certain hope that they will one day be raised. We laid them in the ground saying to God that, though we feel the sting of death and we do not feel His power to raise, yet we still believe what He has always said to be true. Those bodies, still and lifeless, will be raised, and on that day all lament will be turned to praise, pure and untainted. The light that is Christ will dawn and all shadows will flee away.

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