Most of us wrestle at some point or another with the reality of evil and suffering and the implications of evil and suffering for our belief in God or attitude toward God and Christians are not immune to the struggle. Stop and consider for a moment, “How do you respond to suffering, whether suffering in your life or the lives of people around you?” Do you try to ignore your suffering, minimize your pain, and stay positive? Do you try to bury or drown your suffering in a sea of frenetic activity, streaming video or mind-altering substances? Do you fixate on your suffering, wallow in despair, lash out in anger? Are you consumed with bitterness or vengeance? Maybe you’re shaken with fear, convinced that if things could get worse, chances are, they will. Now ask yourself this question. “What does my natural response to suffering reveal about my belief in God?” Ignoring suffering says God is irrelevant. Drowning suffering says God is insufficient. Despair in suffering says God is uninvolved. Rage in suffering says God is unjust. Fear in suffering says God is not in control. By the grace of God, there is another kind of response to evil and suffering. It’s called a cry of lament. According to the Bible, a lament in the midst of suffering involves at least four things: (1) come before God, (2) pour out your complaint, (3) declare your trust in the Lord, (4) ask Him to intervene in the situation our good and His glory.
According to the Bible, pain and sorrow are not intrinsically good because they were not part of God’s original design for creation. But, pain and sorrow can accomplish great good to the extent that they drive us to relate with our Creator in light of who He has revealed Himself to be. That’s what makes lamenting different from venting. Venting involves nothing more than getting a few things off your chest by telling God exactly how you feel in the midst of evil and suffering. Lamenting includes telling God of your feelings and engaging with them in light of the character of God and the ways of God. A biblical lament may be deeply sorrowful, but it’s never sorrow-centered. It’s God-centered. That’s not our natural response, which is one of the reasons I’m eager to take the next few months to preach through 10 different psalms or songs of lament.
The greatest concentration of laments is found in the book of Psalms. In fact, psalms of lament make up over a third of the entire Psalter, and they are as specific as our suffering is varied. There’s a lament for the guilty, a lament for the innocent, a lament for the betrayed, a lament for the trials of aging and chronic illness, a lament in the midst of corporate suffering, a lament when our faith is failing, a lament for victims of injustice, a lament when we’re suffering under strong temptation to sin, and a lament when we’re lonely. The psalms of lament are not some sort of secret recipe for pushing past the pain of our suffering so that it no longer hurts. To the degree we learn to walk in the way of lament, we can learn to experience genuine joy in the midst of our suffering, but until Jesus comes back, suffering isn’t going away. Yet even while we wait for all things to be made new, we learn to groan in a way that is pleasing to God and brings comfort in the midst of our sorrow – not necessarily in the form of a change in our circumstances, but rather in the form of a change in our relationship with the Lord of our circumstances. That’s the goal of the way of lament – learning how to worship God with our suffering and glorify God with our pain. If you’re a Christian, you are never alone in your lament. If you have repented of your sins and are trusting Jesus, not your good works, to make you right with God, then know this – Jesus walked the road of suffering before you. The Son of God was sinless, even in His humanity, and yet He still had to learn obedience through what He suffered during His life on earth (Hebrews 5:8).
Jesus prayed the Psalms of lament. And because the Father always heard and met Him in His suffering, we can be confident that the Father will always hear and met us in our own suffering. The One who walked the way of lament before you stands ready to help you and deliver you, even on days when you feel like venting instead of lamenting. He knows your weakness. He understands your temptation. And He’s eager to help you learn in your suffering how to (1) come before God, (2) pour out your complaint, (3) declare your trust in the Lord, (4) ask Him to intervene for your good and His glory.