The Importance of Lament
This week at New Life, we wrapped up our series through the book of Esther. In the final verses of the narrative, we noticed how much remained unchanged for God's people in Esther's day. Yes, they were delivered from an edict of death, but they were still exiles in a foreign land, and they were still under the rule of Xerxes, the pagan king who ruled over the Persian Empire (Esther 10:1).
Responding to Sorrows
In our day, though Christ has delivered us from sin and death through his work on the cross, much remains unchanged, as well. There is still poverty, disease, sickness, strife, affliction, loss, and sorrow, and Satan is still the prince of this world. If you follow the news, you know we've had two more murderous shootings in our nation these past couple of weeks. On March 16, 2021, a gunman opened fire at three spas in the Atlanta area. Then—just six days later—on March 22, 2021, another gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. Each attack reminds us of the horrors of sin and darkness in this broken world. Yes, Christ gives us hope, especially as we think of our future dwelling with him, but so much remains unchanged in this world.
This should lead us primarily to lament.
The Characteristics of Lament
One of the things we can notice about the biblical psalms is how many of them were written as laments to the Lord. In Psalm 6, for example, David cried out, "Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love" (verses 2-4). In this particular psalm, David laments to the Lord amid a time of sickness, which seems to have provided an opportunity for David's enemies to vent their animosity against him (cf., verses 8-10). This is a case of an individual lament.
But there are also community laments, which deal with situations of national crises. Psalm 12, for example, laments over the spread of sin in Israel: "Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts" (verses 1-2). This raises the importance of lamenting not just as individuals, but as a community of faith, as well.
In both types of laments, there are cries of sadness and pleas to the Lord for help. But suffering and injustice aren't the only motifs in the psalms of lament. Most end with faith-filled hope and assurance. Psalm 13, for example, ends with a reminder of God's previous deliverance as well as a beautiful vow of praise: "But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me" (verses 5-6).
Learning to Lament
As you walk through this broken, unchanging world, take heart in knowing the Lord hears your cries. There are many ways in which we can respond to the things that aren't right in this world, but I hope the psalms encourage you to primarily respond with lament to the Lord. The broken state of affairs in this life should drive our saddened hearts to God, pleading to him for his help and intervening grace, both individually and corporately, as a church. And as we lament, whether it's on our own or together, we should also raise our faith-filled hope to the Lord, with words that express trust and praise.
One day, because of Jesus' wonderful work in delivering us, all will be made right (Revelation 21:1-4). In the meantime, as we experience sorrows, let's remember to raise our cries to our listening and watchful Lord, not with hopelessness, but with faith-filled hope.
What, if anything, can you take to the Lord in lament this week?