Bible, Theology

Why You Need the Language of Lament At The End of 2020

January 4, 2021

Many of us are ending the year tired, weary, exhausted, and hopeless. The global pandemic has caused a multitude of losses: friendships, time with family, jobs, opportunities, graduations, rituals. The ‘”New Year, New Me” facade is glaringly absent as the hopelessness continues on for another year. Even for some of you who are seeking to turn over the new year leaf, eventually we have to come face-to-face with the trauma and suffering that we have endured this year. If you do not have the language of lament, you will be woefully deficient in dealing with the multiple heartbreaks from the last year.

Thankfully, God has not left us alone in our pain and sorrow—God has given us language to deal with our trauma: the language of lament. In fact, the wisdom literature is primarily comprised of lament language, which gives the people of God freedom to express their grief and sorrow towards God and to one another. Because of the effects of sin on the world, part and parcel of being human is dealing with pain and suffering. Lament gives you language to properly grieve the loss while at the same time trusting God in the pain.

So what exactly is lament? Mark Vroegop, in his latest book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, defines lament as “a prayer in pain that leads to trust.” Notice that Vroegop doesn’t fall into the two pitfalls that humanity normally fall into: either believing that we cannot bring our sorrow honestly to God or we cannot trust God in our pain. Lament gives you the ability to grieve and feel the trauma in its fullest sense while also giving you space to trust God again. Falling on either side of the road does not allow your soul to recover in the way that it needs.

Biblically speaking, lament is all over the pages, particularly in the wisdom literature. Psalm 77 gives us a helpful picture of what it looks like to come to God in our prayers of lament. Notice that in Psalm 77, the Psalmist does both aspects of lament: praying in pain and trusting God amidst the pain.

A Prayer in Pain

[1] I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, and he will hear me.
[2] In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
[3] When I remember God, I moan;
    when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

[4] You hold my eyelids open;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
[5] I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
[6] I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
[7] “Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
[8] Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
[9] Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Psalm 77:1-9 (ESV)

The Psalmist is brutally honest with God in his prayer, using rhetorical questions to phrase his pain, “Will you spurn forever? Will you never again be favorable? Are your promises null and void? Have you forgotten to be gracious?” Rhetorical questions in prayer are a key theme of lament, as it gives us language to express how a particular situation makes us feel, which is why the Psalmists asks, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me?” (Psalm 13:1).

There is no doubt that the Psalmist is expressing the full weight of his pain to God. For those of you who have endured a particularly difficult year, or who currently enduring a particularly difficult season, the Psalmist gives you the freedom to express your pain honestly toward God. Go to Him with your doubts, complaints, laments, and tears.

A Prayer in Trust

Not only does the Psalmist express his pain but he preaches to himself the hope that is found in God alone. You see, many of us are good at the front end of lamenting: complaining, moaning, expressing our pain; fewer of us have known what it is like to turn that pain into trust.

[11] I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
[12] I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.
[13] Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is great like our God?
[14] You are the God who works wonders;
    you have made known your might among the peoples.
[15] You with your arm redeemed your people,
    the children of Jacob and Joseph. Psalm 77:11–15 (ESV)

Rather than allowing his pain to dictate the story, the Psalmist turns the page and allows the faithfulness of God to tell the story. Even in the midst of his pain, he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord, I will remember how great and glorious you are.” In the deepest of sorrows, God is still the God who works wonders. The God who parted the Red Sea and saved the people of Israel by a mighty hand, is the same God who listens to your laments even today.

A Prayer to the Man of Sorrows

For someone who struggles with ongoing depression and generally has a melancholy disposition, it brings me great comfort knowing that my God is called “the man of sorrows,” and knows what it is like to suffer alongside humanity. In your pain, come to God, not only because he is mighty and the God who works wonders, but also because He is the God who knows what its like to be in pain; he is the God who knows what it is like to be betrayed; he is the God who knows what it is like to lament.

Will you come, then, to the man of sorrows? The one who gathers your tears in his bottle? The one who weeps alongside you in your grief? The one who identifies with you in your sorrow? The one who will one day wipe every tear from your eye and restore everything back to the way it is supposed to be.

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