"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4, ESV)
This year, 2020, will likely be remembered as the year of lament. And for good reason! To lament is to passionately express grief or sorrow. It is to mourn and weep. And it’s a perfectly reasonable response to what we’ve endured, so far, this year.
In the Bible, there’s an entire book called Lamentations. It records the sorrow of Jeremiah marveling at the utter destruction that has fallen on Jerusalem around 586 B.C., brought on by the foolishness of God’s people.
About a century and a half later, when Nehemiah learns that Jerusalem is again in tatters, his first response is to lament (Nehemiah 1).
About a third of the Psalms are laments, and even Jesus lamented over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Destruction of homes and businesses through earthquakes, fires, riots, floods, or hurricanes is lamentable. Death, whether from COVID-19, at that hands of irresponsible police, through wanton gun violence, from planes flown into towers, or by abortion, is lamentable. Human trafficking -- the dehumanizing and commoditizing of children for the pleasure of the perverted -- is lamentable. Political bitterness fomenting antagonism and hostility among friends and within families is lamentable. Racism and racial injustice is lamentable.
All of this should cause a sense of sorrow in us. A mourning for the bentness of the world -- a world bending away from God. The proper response is to lament. Why? Because Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Typically we hate pain. Our first reaction is to make it stop hurting, find a way to fix whatever must be broken, to ignore the source of the pain, to get it over with and move on. Lament says, “Not so fast. Perhaps you need to sit in your pain for a while and understand what’s happening before you’re ready to be delivered.”
But when pain persists our next response is often complaint. “Why me? I don’t deserve this! Life is not fair!” Complaining focuses on us and our situation robbing us of joy and gratitude. Lament can act as catharsis allowing us to release the emotion and regain our bearings.
Lament acknowledges our neediness, reveals the condition of our heart, admits we are weak, and reorients us to the strength and sovereignty of God. It renews the image of God within us. It fosters empathy for others and leads us out of denial. It shuts down solution-making and turns our attention to the Savior, to God, getting us outside ourselves into his hands and opening ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Without lament, we tend to look to our own strength, or the strength of something other than God to provide an escape for us. What do we want? Relief! When do we want it? Now!
Until we mourn -- lament -- we can’t be comforted. And we can’t mourn when we’re in a constant state of attempting repair by our own strength or in denial that we need God.
Heath A. Thomas, a dean and professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, writes, “Lament is a tool that God's people use to navigate pain and suffering.”
This is a tear-filled year. But that’s okay. God comforts those who mourn and turn to him. As the Psalmist reminds us, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Sorrow serves a purpose as Paul explains, “For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
We can move from pain via lament to receive comfort and gain eternal glory!
When lament passes, we can sing with the Psalmist, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12).
The best is always gained through tears. But before we can dance or laugh, we must weep and mourn.
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