Today I want to talk about grief and lamenting. Bill is going to read various Bible passages for us to illustrate the points.
Here is an example to show what I mean by “lament”:
Psalm 44 21-26
23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. 24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? 25 We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. 26 Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.
Because we love and get attached to people, grief is an inevitable part of living. It is our response to the losses we experience throughout life. Lament is us expressing distress to God, it is, if you like, us complaining to God.
Laments are appropriate for us who cry out for the events that cause us to grieve (loss of a job, end of a romance, death of a loved one, an act of injustice or violence).
We have many reasons to celebrate, but at different times there is a large body of us for whom lament has more resonance.
Have you ever found it difficult to sit in a service where jolly, “praisy” hymns and songs just seemed out of place to you. Perhaps you have even found it difficult to come to Church to face all those happy people?
Personally I feel uncomfortable around people in pain and sorrow, I am not comfortable with my own sorrow. We, particularly men, are ingrained with a “stiff upper lip” crying is seen as a sign of weakness in our culture.
Jews have fewer problems with lamentation. There is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem where Jews lament the loss of the Temple, there is Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the holiest day in Judaism which is in large part recognised with prayers of lament.
In some Jewish traditions if someone has a complaint with God they go to the front of the synagogue open the arc with the Tora scrolls and shout at God until someone takes them to one side to comfort them. How would we feel if we started our services that way?
Lets look at “Lament” in the Bible, starting near the beginning:
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.
Is there anyone here without a groan in their heart?
Philipeans 2:14 Paul says “do everything without complaining”, lament is essentially complaining. This seems to be a contradiction as it is certainly what Moses and the Israelites were doing! We will come back to that.
There is a great deal of lamentation in the Bible
The book of Lamentations is five chapters about the destruction of the temple.
Lamentations 1 20- 21
20 “See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death. 21 “People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my distress; they rejoice at what you have done. May you bring the day you have announced so they may become like me.
The author, possibly Jeremiah, is calling on God to make his enemies suffer as he is suffering.
Then there is Job, not a very cheery soul for very obvious reasons
Job 10 1-4
1 “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. 2 I say to God: Do not declare me guilty, but tell me what charges you have against me. 3 Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked? 4 Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you see as a mortal sees?
Job is asking if God gains satisfaction from his suffering?
Job 30 20-23
20 “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. 21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. 22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. 23 I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.
This sounds as though Job has given up, finally beaten down by the loss of his family, wealth and influence and his friends who have turned against him.
According to CCLI worship songs have about 2% with a lament component. But there are 150 Psalms and about 60 have an element of Lamentation and more than 20 are only lamenting. Seven of them are called the “Psalms of Communal Lament”.
If we hear good news all the time it is probably not real news, and honesty is important in our worship and prayer. There is surely room to express our sense of grief. Grief is messy, visually and emotionally.
We think of grief and sadness as distorted views of the world, but perhaps we see things through tears that we otherwise would not see.
13 But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? 15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. 18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.
The inspiration for Hello darkness my old friend, Simon and Garfunkel.
So what is the point? Doesn’t lamentation make it worse? Aren’t we wallowing in our own misery?
There is Some Good News
We know that God hears our cries:
Exodus 2 God expresses his concern
24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
Exodus 3 God takes action
17 I have decided that I will bring them out of Egypt, where they are being treated cruelly, and will take them to a rich and fertile land – the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites
Lamentation 3 Throughout Lamentations there is always a reflection back to faith in God’s goodness
21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
Job laments to God in the face of losing everything he has, but Job never gives up on his faith, defending God to the last.
In the final chapter God says that Job has spoken truthfully and restores Job’s fortunes.
12 The Lord blessed the last part of Job’s life even more than he had blessed the first. Job owned fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, two thousand head of cattle, and one thousand donkeys. 13 He was the father of seven sons and three daughters. 14 He called the oldest daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the youngest Keren Happuch. 15 There were no other women in the whole world as beautiful as Job’s daughters. Their father gave them a share of the inheritance along with their brothers. 16 Job lived a hundred and forty years after this, long enough to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In Philippians I think, and I have no authority for this, that Paul is saying be strong in our faith and avoid complaining to our fellow man; not “do not complain to God”.
Even Jesus laments over Jerusalem, and on the cross says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…?”
Our fortitude and patients in the face of adversity can be a support and strength to our Christian Brothers and Sisters, and a witness to our non-christian friends.
And, surely the evidence is overwhelming that God thinks it is OK to rant and rave at the unfairness of our lot as long as we persevere and do not lose our faith in him.
Lamentation is passing the pressure we feel onto God. We should feel comfortable with that. It may seem that shouting at God represents a loss of faith, but actually because we shout at God, we are demonstrating that faith. It is an act of faith.
In Psalms Lament has five components:
- Oh God…
- .. how long…?
- Save me… deliver me…
- I am confident that you will save me…
This gives direction to our journey from grief to praise, and wiser men than me say that practicing by reading lamentations strengthens us for when we really need it.
Can I ask you to think about this and maybe join together in reading an appropriate psalm, led by Bill:
Psalm 142 Read together from the Good News Bible
1 I call to the Lord for help; I plead with him. 2 I bring him all my complaints; I tell him all my troubles. 3 When I am ready to give up, he knows what I should do. In the path where I walk, my enemies have hidden a trap for me. 4 When I look beside me, I see that there is no one to help me, no one to protect me. No one cares for me. 5 Lord, I cry to you for help; you, Lord, are my protector; you are all I want in this life. 6 Listen to my cry for help, for I am sunk in despair. Save me from my enemies; they are too strong for me. 7 Set me free from my distress; then in the assembly of your people I will praise you because of your goodness to me.