There is often little to no room for grieving and weeping in the church. This theme was explored in the previous post. In this post, I want to explore “how” we go about lamenting or grieving as God’s people. We know that there are moments or even seasons where our hearts are heavy and eyes weary from sorrow. I define lament as:
Lament is death-induced disappointment and despair.
Lament is not restricted to physical death but certainly includes it. Lament, in this definition, leaves room for the death of relationships and dreams. Lament tells us things are not the way they should be. Simply, lament acknowledges the effects of sin in our world.
There are two ways in which God’s people can learn to lament from Psalm 13.
1. We lament with honesty from the heart.
David begins Psalm 13 with a fourfold repetition of the phrase “How long…How long…How long….How long?” David’s honesty extends both to God and to others.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2 ESV)
David feels like God has abandoned him. It doesn’t seem like God cares about David and has even forgotten him. David’s prayers don’t seem to be heard by God, And if God is listening, it seems likes God is silent and has turned his “face” away from him. David feels ignored and abandoned by God. This is the reality for many in lament. When this happens, our theology is in conflict with our experiences. We, like David, can be honest before God about how we feel.
Notice David’s honesty also extends to others. The subscript for the Psalm is “For the choir director” meaning this is part of Israel’s hymn book. David’s lament is now part of the community’s lament. God’s people are given a language and example of lament to follow. David is or will be the King of Israel when he writes this. It is a reminder that there are no positions or responsibilities that excuse our lack of honesty in times of lament. We can be honest with others, regardless of our position. We may not share every detail with every person but we also don’t have to pretend that everything is okay when it is not. David models for us honesty with others, especially in times of pain.
The lament Psalms are preserved, by God’s grace, through the centuries to guide God’s people through the death-induced disappointments and despairing moments in life. David expresses what Israel and God’s people all through the centuries have felt but weren’t sure if they could or should say, “How Long, O LORD?” This is one of the reasons that we love the Psalms because they allow us to be honest. The Psalms provide a vocabulary and expression of honesty we often struggle to find with those around us today.
Notice the depth of his despair and agony. In verse 2, “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?” His words “How Long” find their roots in his “sorrowful” heart. The “heart” in biblical times is the seat of the emotions and source of a person’s words and actions. It is, in the movie Inside Out, the control center of Riley and her family. David’s heart is full of sorrow and this is clear from his words. He is not keeping the disappointment and despair inside him but honestly expresses himself to God and to others. David’s honest words come from an honest heart ripped apart by disappointment and despair.
David’s life was no stranger to disappointment and despair. David is anointed King of Israel but spends nearly a decade dodging spears and running for his life from Saul. David says goodbye to his best friend, Jonathan, knowing they would never see each other alive. David experiences the pain of burying a child. David’s son, Absalom, rebels against him and seeks to be King over Israel in his place. David is no stranger to disappointment and despair.
Our circumstances for lament may be different but the pain, disappointment, and despair is no less real. It is in these times when we lament with honesty from the heart. We are honest with God about how we feel and we are honest with others as well.
If you’re in a season of lament, let me encourage you to invite others into your pain. This may be your small group, a Sunday School class, the church leadership, or other believers. Lament seems to indicate God has abandoned us. When we invite others into our lament, we are reminded God is near to us. He is listening to us. He cares deeply for us through the presence of His people.
2. We lament with hope because of God.
When we are disappointed and despairing of life, God’s people lament with hope. Look at the first few words of verse 5, “But I trust…” As David honestly asks, “How Long, O LORD” his heart is filled with sorrow. Yet, it is in the midst of his sorrow-filled heart that David expresses his trust in God. Notice that there is no indication that David’s circumstances have changed. Things are not necessarily better now than they have been. But, his perspective in the midst of pain has changed. How can David and how can we have hope in the midst of pain?
David expresses where his hope and confidence are found. He goes on in verse 5, “But I trust in Your faithfulness, my heart will rejoice in your salvation.” How do we lament? We lament with hope because of God. The word “faithfulness” or “lovingkindness” (chesed) is God’s faithfulness to keep His promises to His people. It refers to God as the covenant-keeper. Simply, God is going to do what He has said He will do. God is going to come through for His people. God is going to bring “salvation” for His people. In the midst of our waiting for God’s salvation to come and when the questions of “how long” plague us, we “trust” in the midst of disappointment and despair. This “salvation” may not be when or how we expect it but salvation is coming!
God’s people may not experience a reversal of their painful circumstances in this life. Our tears, sorrows, and seasons of lament may be many. Our lament may last a few days, a few weeks, or even several years. The occasions and intensity for lament will vary as well. In those times, our confidence in God’s character can grow shaky. Our circumstances and our feelings may tell us God isn’t listening, doesn’t care, and isn’t good. We may feel abandoned and ignored by God. We feel like we can’t go on anymore. In our seasons of lament, God’s people lament with hope because of God.
We remember the character of God and one who is not a stranger to pain. We have a God who enters into our pain. God does not exempt Himself from His creation’s pain but enters into it by sending His Son, Jesus, into the world. Jesus weeps over the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35).
Jesus experiences pain and lament on the cross. The perfect, innocent Son of God is no stranger to pain. Jesus cries out, as he hangs on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Psalm 22. There are times when God feels distant and we wonder what God is doing. But, death is not the end of the story!
Jesus’ story and our story does not end in death. Our story culminates in and our confidence is restored in the life-giving resurrection of Jesus!
Jesus is no stranger to humanity’s tears. Yet, heaven’s tears burst forth with hope. As Jesus is weeping over His friend’s death, he reminds everyone listening, including us, that, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). As Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Jesus is showing us that in Him there is hope, even in death. Jesus is the called “first fruits” of the resurrection, meaning what is true of Jesus’ being raised from the dead will be true of those who believe in Him in the future as well.
As God himself did not distance himself from grief and sadness, neither are His people to avoid lament or those who are lamenting. The church must learn to mirror God’s entrance into pain for the good of others. Maybe you know people around you who have recently gone through a time of lament or are experiencing a time of lament. Let me encourage you walk with others in their pain.You may not know what to say or what to do. Often, those who lament want someone to sit with them and listen to them. Maybe you show up and “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
When God’s people enter into others’ pain, we are reminding ourselves and others that God Himself enters into our pain. Death and grief are real but they are not the end of the story. We continue to face pain, sickness, disappointment, and death in the present. Those painful realities may not change quickly or at all. Yet, we can go through these times with honesty and hope because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As we experience pain, we invite others into our pain to share in the grief. As God’s people, we walk with others in their pain.
Our response in light of this hope, as David demonstrates in verse 6, is “I will sing to the Lord, because He has been good to me.” How do we praise God with honesty and hope in the midst of pain? Or, more simply, how do we lament? Let me suggest that David is guiding us toward this truth in times of lament:
We praise God with tear-filled confidence!
God is not asking us to deny or ignore our circumstances and the reality of our pain. He invites us to be honest with Him and with others in the disappointment and despair we experience. Tears fill the landscape in times of lament. We remember death is not the end of the story. In the midst of our confusion and pain, we can praise God because he is faithful and good.