A Time to Weep

A young family watches their dad die of cancer. A teenager is struck and killed by a car while helping his friend tow her car from a ditch. A village of Christians are brutally slaughtered in Syria, their once proud, ancient community in ruins.

Death. Suffering. Loss. Abandonment.

This is part of what it means to be human.

Yet, the most horrible part of pain and suffering is the feeling of abandonment: ash-smeared skies and smoking battlefields. In those moments, what is there but lament, the most soul-wrenching cry of human aguish and Divine absence?

The Bible is filled with laments: Job accused God of unfairness, the Psalm writers mourned his betrayal and empty promises, and Jesus cried out in abandonment. Many people skip over those parts. After all, it seems wrong somehow to accuse God of abandonment or to acknowledge that our world is not as it should be.

Yet, as Scott Ellington notes, lament is not simply tears and pointing fingers. Instead, it is also “the experience of loss suffered within the context of relatedness. A relationship of trust, intimacy, and love is a necessary precondition for genuine lament.”[1]

Because we are in a relationship with God, we are in a position to point fingers. If we don’t, in a way, we deny his sovereignty. Ellington continues, “Cries of pain and protest that do not arise from the community’s covenant relationship with God have no foundation on which to stand in approaching God for an answer.”

Sometimes biblical laments end with hope and sometimes they don’t. Lamentations is a perfect example. The whole book is one black pit of despair that ends with the nation of Israel raped, torn into pieces, and without hope.

That is the horror of the situations behind lament, that sense of aloneness. It is worse than the pain and suffering. Because if God is not with us, if there is no relationship, then there is no hope.

The Psalms of lament are an effective means of giving voice to pain, hopelessness, and loneness. Yet at the same time they also are implicitly  an expression of trust that God still hears us: even if there is no cure for cancer, no end to war, and no reversing of a family death. The lament by its very nature expresses our need of and dependence on God. It is a conversation of pain- but it is still a conversation.

Thus, the lament becomes the community voice of intercession.

As Nancy Gross says:

There are times in life when we are able to protect ourselves, to get ourselves out of scrapes, to bind up our own wounds, and to smooth over the rougher terrain. There are times when the sound of our own voice, or perhaps the voice of a loved one or friend, is comfort enough. But for so many, perhaps for you, this is not one of those times. The comfort of our families is no small comfort, but it isn’t comfort enough…the sound of the Shepherd is the one thing needful. And nothing else will do.[2]

When my grandfather lay dying in the hospital, my family took shifts reading to him from the Psalms. I think on some level it was as much for us as it was for him. Grandpa was making his life’s final journey, utterly alone. We could only watch as he struggled for each breath, unable to do more than squeeze our hands. Though the end was inevitable, it was still a shock because secretly we all hope for miracles. But when miracles don’t happen, we feel abandoned and betrayed.

What was there to say? Nothing. So we prayed from the Psalms, giving voice to our pain and questions and, ultimately, the trust to which we all still clung.

All we needed was tears and lament. Not reminders of the world to come, not even comfort.

Because the ancients had it right all along. Lament is the first step to healing our pain and despair. In tears, both divine and human, there is community and consolation.

It’s rather ironic that we have minimized lament as somehow un-Christian. After all, Jesus himself lamented and told others to lament.

When he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If only you yourself knew, while it was still our day, the way of shalom! But now it is hidden from your eyes, for look days are coming upon you when your enemies will pile up a siege around you and encircle you and assail you from all sides. They will tear you down to the ground you and your children within you. Not one stone will remain on another stone, because you did not know the time of your punishment.[3]  (Luke 19:41-45)

As he stumbled under the weight of the cross, beaten and bloodied, what did Yeshua tell the few women who wept for him? To lament for themselves.

Daughters of Yerushalayim! Do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and for your children! For the days are coming when they will say, “O, the gladness of the barren! And O, the gladness of the wombs that have not given birth! And O, the gladness of the breasts that have never nursed!” Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and to the hills, “Cover us!”  (Luke 23:28)

As Christians who believe that Christ has given us hope for a happy ending, we would not expect these to be among Christ’s last words. Why didn’t he tell them that his death would usher in a new age—an age where everything made sense—an age where God was always faithful to the righteous? Because we still live in a fallen world.

C. Clifton Black noted that in today’s Post-modern Christianity:

In place of the Christian gospel of God’s triumph, it substitutes the bad news of human triumphalism. It stills the voice of lament—often throwing the additional burden of guilt on the plaintive—and dares to attempt what even God refused: obliterating the wounds of Christ Jesus.[4]

There is no other way of painting Jesus’ story. God did not rescue him from the agony of the cross. So he wept to his Father, “My God, My God, Why have you Forsaken me?”, and he voiced his pain and aloneness through the ancient lament of Psalm 31. Yet, in quoting part of the Psalm, Jesus invoked the whole; giving voice to pain and praise, despair and the hope that comes with God. Though his death was inevitable, though everyone had abandoned him, though there were no last minute miracles, Jesus acknowledged God’s sovereignty by reminding his listeners of Psalm 31.

If we ignore lament, if we only offer Praise, we ignore an important part of being human. We are fallen, and because we are fallen the world is not as it should be. To be human is to experience pain. To deny that pain is to deny the reality of the world and our need for God to fill the emptiness within us. Only when we acknowledge that something is wrong with the world can we even begin to think about fixing it or allowing God to rescue us. As Christians, we are in relationship with God, and we should engage God when life brings us pain and suffering, as Jesus did.

Lamenting in the midst of our suffering is an affirmation not only of God’s existence but also of His sovereignty over our world and lives. Thus, lament acknowledges both our humanity and God’s reality.

In his book, “The Shattered Lantern,” Ronald Rohlheiser comments, “The issue is obviously not so much one of God’s presence, or absence, as it is one of the presence or absence of God within our awareness. God is always present, but we are not always present to God.’”[5]

When I look back on those long weeks in the hospital with my grandfather, I see things differently. I see my savior mourning with my family in that little hospital room. I see a family who, though in pain and full of questions, was present to God. And most of all, I see a God who was present to us.

Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). In doing so, we recognize our humanity. Through Lament, we acknowledge God and allow him to respond: whether it’s the hoped-for-miracle or simply to allow him to cry with us.

So weep with me. Open your Bible and read Lamentations. Weep with a world in pain and need. Weep with the lost. Weep with God.

[1] Scott A. Ellington, Risking Truth: Reshaping the World through Prayers of Lament. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. (Pickwick, OR: Eugene, 2008), 7.

[2] Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller. Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 41-42

[3] The Delitzch Hebrew Gospels: A Hebrew/ English Translation. United States: Vine Of David, 2011

[4] Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller. Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew, and Public Square. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 56.

[5] Ronald Rohlheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a felt presence of God, New York, Crossroad: 21


3 thoughts on “A Time to Weep

  1. Rebekah this is written so well!! It is true we want our lives to be filled with happiness and joy. So when pain and disappointment come it can be very devastating That deep lamenting is when we can truly see God and then there is hope …Good meditation! Thank You Mom

  2. Rebekah,
    I can read that you are going to be a awesome writer and teacher. This article you wrote is so deep and thought provoking. What a motivated and driven young lady you have become. I believe you will accomplish your goals. In regards to your blog, maybe that is why most people do not look to God until they are brought to their knees or lamenting as you said. So it does bring some people to God.

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