There’s a reason Lamentations 3:21-25 sounds familiar. This passage speaks of the Lord’s mercies in an unforgettable way: “His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” If we haven’t heard these verses, we’ve probably sung them. The hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” rises from this text. These five verses may be familiar, but the rest of the book is likely not. The dictionary helps us understand why. When we look up lament, we read: “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” We’re drawn to joyful worship, passionate preaching, authentic fellowship, and sacrificial service. But lament? Who wants to attend the evening of lament at church? Lamentations is the passionate expression of grief as God’s people wrestle with the destruction of their homeland. In an age of options, who could blame us for wanting to change the channel? But the language of lament is not unusual in the Bible; it just feels unusual in our time and place. We can’t read the Psalms for long without running into a lament, but what do we do when we stumble upon one? Do we enter into the darkness, or do we run ahead looking for light? The hope of Lamentations 3:21-25 is deeply connected to a moment of lament. We should ask ourselves: Would passages like these reach so high if their roots weren’t planted so deeply in the soil of sadness? And if not, what does that mean for us if we choose superficial joy over the deeper joy that comes on the other side of lament?
When he lost his son in a hiking accident, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff penned a lament. In the midst of his devastation, he wrote, “Every lament is a love song.” God’s people lamented because they loved Jerusalem and they loved the Lord, and they feared they had lost both. If we allow ourselves to go there, what would be our lament? Where could we sing the song of love lost? In relationships with friends or family, could we lament what we’ve said or left unsaid? Could we lament the distance we feel because we’ve failed to spend time or seek reconciliation? In our work, could we lament the choices that we’ve made when we were blown by the winds of wrong motives to places that we desired…until we got there? Could we lament the wasted hours, days, and opportunities? In our relationship with God, could we lament the sin that clings so closely, the moments when we do what we hate and hate what we do? Could we lament the sluggishness of hearts that are prone to wander, even after we’ve experienced more of the mercies of God?
I ask because I sense that many of us do not know how to lament. We hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and we think, “That’s great for the sad mourning people out there somewhere.” Many of us are second-hand mourners. Lament is biography, not autobiography. I ask because I fear, as long as that is the case, the comfort of the Gospel will be biography, not autobiography. We become people handing out flyers to places we’ve never been, inviting others to experience the life-changing love of Christ when we are too afraid to go there ourselves. I ask because I know that we’re tempted to waste our lives chasing the next new thing, when only Jesus is big enough to satisfy our longing. I ask because only Christ can make all things new, but we’re tempted to choose the old that we know over the new that we don’t.
The only way to new life in Christ is to confront the lamentable devastation of what is old. With brutal honesty, the author of Lamentations brings his lament before the Lord. And it’s there, in the smoldering ashes of devastation, that something new happens. The poet gives us a vital practice: calling things to mind. When difficulty comes, we cannot avoid remembering or preaching some kind of message to ourselves. So will we listen to the voice of hopelessness, or will we call to mind the voice of God? Will we yield to the darkness, or will we remind ourselves of the Light who shines in the darkness? When all the signs suggest otherwise, we preach to ourselves that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. When we think that we’ve exhausted His forgiveness, we call to mind that His mercies never come to an end. When we fear that we’ll be forsaken, we declare, “Great is His faithfulness.” When nothing else satisfies, we proclaim, “The Lord is my portion.” By His grace, we learn to wait on the Lord…and to lament. We follow Jesus, who is the pattern and power of our altogether new life. In the middle of our efforts to avoid difficulty, can we see Jesus waiting, lamenting, and suffering? He seems to know that the way to new is not around but through. So what does He see that we don’t? On the other side of lament, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is resurrection. On the other side of old, there is new. There is much to lament, but this we call to mind, and therefore we have hope.
By Robby Higginbottom, assistant pastor of college ministry, Park Cities Presbyterian Church.