Last year I read a book called Lament for a Son written by Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Christian philosopher. He wrote it in response to the sudden death of his son who died of a skiing accident at age 25. Wolterstorff paints a devastating picture of the pain a parent suffers losing a child. At times the angst is so dark, I wanted to close the book–just too hard to read, too painful to process. The book is unique, however, in that it is an honest godward lament. Wolterstorff wrestles with God’s goodness. Though the tone is filled with searing pain, there is also honest questioning with scripture and God’s purposes. There is no denial of the ache of the loss and no pretending to God or to himself.
A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of visiting a dear friend on the 1-year anniversary of his son’s passing. It was a tearful visit on the front porch. Both of us agreed that no parent should have to watch their own child die. We lamented the deep loss of his son, the life cut short, the lovely wife and children he left behind. Our tears and groanings were appropriate for such an awful sadness. We wept and prayed in sadness as tears rolled down our faces. What we did that day was lament.
Perhaps because our culture prizes the experience of ease, comfort and pleasure, we as Christians are tempted to do the same. We might rather escape, pretend or run from pain and sorrow. It would be easier than to express it honestly to God or to others. We often want to jump quickly to resurrection hope.
But Scripture offers no such treatment of deep pain and sorrow. After all the book of Lamentations is dedicated entirely to the theme of lament. One writer says that 65 of the psalms within our psalter are lament psalms. These psalms capture the woes and turmoil, the angst and pain of life in a fallen world where there is injustice, suffering and wrong. I find it truly amazing and kind of our God that He would make lament part of His inspired word.
It is hard to lament well, but particularly to lament with hope. The year 2020 has filled us often with despair. We have felt the sadness of disease and death, the groanings of a divided nation, the despair of lost jobs and income. It’s as if a collective hopelessness has set in. It feels like we have been pummeled, as one loss gets piled onto many others.
But earthly despair and godly lament are at core entirely different. Despair looks all around at earthly circumstances and then turns inward. It turns us in on ourselves and causes us to give up hope, to shake our fist in anger and disappointment or even ultimately to give up caring altogether. Godly lament turns our eyes away from ourselves up to the Lord with fervent, heartfelt pain. We take those pains, those hurts and those sorrows and hand them over to God, like a little child whose hands are dirty and muddy and cut from playing outside. He stands looking up at his mom with outstretched dirty hands. He is helpless. She looks at him with love and tenderness, takes him to wash, to put a band-aid on the cut and to hold the child for as long as he needs until the crying stops. God is that parent: sure, reliable, quick and ready to heal, to comfort, to fix, to hold.
So the source of our hope is rock solid. But our God is not a cold and stoic god unaffected by our grief. After all, our God was the one willing to give up his very own son. And that son was called the man of sorrows. He was willing to enter the muck, the dirt, the disappointment and sadness of earthly living to save us and to bring us healing and hope. Our Jesus lamented over Jerusalem. He lamented and wept at the tomb of his close friend Lazarus. He was acquainted with disturbing emotions and agonizing grief. Perhaps one of His greatest laments was to watch the world he breathed into existence so devastated by sin and suffering.
And the destination of our hope is eternal. I know it’s very daunting to picture eternity, to believe in it. It feels so far away and so intangible. But we know that Jesus was raised to bring us with him, to bring us home. We know that all of the lamentable and deplorable things we experience on this earth will be gone forever there. We know that nothing will ever be taken from us again, that all pain and darkness will cease. That resurrection hope is real.
As we learn to cry out to God, to trust His promises, to look to heavenly glory, we can also remember that resurrection power means something now. Lamenting with hope means we can help turn others’ eyes to Jesus. We can with compassion take the time to listen, to sit and cry. We can stop and pray. We can speak words of God’s comfort instead of merely commiseration. Living in the awareness of His comfort truly makes our faith come alive and authentic. We can meet others in their pain without superficiality, fakeness or stoic avoidance.
This Christmas perhaps your dinner table will be sparse. Perhaps the festivities will be fewer. But perhaps it can be an occasion for godly lament with hope. Cry out to the Lord around your table. Voice the pain with those you love if you are able and then with resurrection hope wait on Him. True hope will be truer and more real when the pain and disappointment has also been expressed honestly to the Lord and to others. He will accomplish His purposes through these dark and trying times. He will turn our mourning into dancing. “The night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”