Lament Before Hope
How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
has become a slave.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I heard all throughout seminary many wise words. Many of them came from my professors, of course. But a lot of them came also from my fellow students. A lot of them had to do with the state of the church. Where were the opportunities and the pitfalls? What were her strengths and weaknesses?
One that I heard again and again was that the church has forgotten how to lament. We have forgotten how to pray the psalms of mourning and grief, and the Book of Lamentations was largely ignored. We’d abandoned the old hymns that taught us how to grieve well. And so on.
However much this may or may not be true, as I’ve sat with people who are grieving over one thing or another, I can tell you why we might not want to focus on lament. Because lament is the most powerless of all emotions.
But perhaps that’s not quite right. Perhaps lament is the emotion of the powerless. Perhaps it takes getting to the point where there is not much left for you to do but suffer. Perhaps it’s only there that lament becomes viable. In that sense, lament brings us closer to the truth than we might otherwise grasp. For how much power have we ever really had in the first place?
Lament in the face of tragedy, then, is coming face to face with truth and giving an honest response. God’s Word encourages exactly that. And actually, this is very near the heart of the gospel message. As one of my professors used to say, “Without the bad news of sin, there can be no good news of forgiveness.” Indeed, without a knowledge of sin, there is nothing to grieve over, nothing to repent of, no need of forgiveness.
But of course, all this means that we have to face the bad news squarely and honestly. And for us now, that means we need to grieve, we need to lament—every last one of us.
“Christian leaders especially need to grapple [with] and actually feel their own grief. We need the promises of God to remind us we grieve as those with hope, but leaders must lead out of their grief - and not simply a distanced intellectual observance of their grief. I'm talking about a visceral wrestling-with-God-to-the-point-it-is-a-bit-frightening grief. Short of that, our proclamations of hope will feel hollow.” (Jason Pogue)
Those are some of those wise words from a friend from seminary. We will not feel or know the hope of God’s promises unless we look death in the eye, and know that it claims us for its own. We cannot win against such a foe. Weep and wail on that account. And then turn your laments to the God who has defeated death. Only then will you truly know what it means to cry out, “O death, where is your victory!? O death, where is your sting!? (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Look on your lonely city, once full of people. And mourn.
Then look to your heavenly Father who sees your suffering. For he is good.
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?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.