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Published on July 19th, 2016 | by Discussion Questions

What is the place of lament in the Christian life?





R. WRITES: Joy is a big part of being a Christian. I know that. But when I look through God’s Word I also see grief and mourning and lament – over sin, over death, over brokenness, over repentance. How do we manage the tension of joy and lament in the Christian life?


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  • Hannah Young

    This is such a fantastic question!
    And I’m sorry I’m about to answer it with such a long answer lol.
    First, let me say that I absolutely love reading what people post on this website. My husband and I are vocational missionaries to middle and high school students, and we’ve been ministering to teenagers for years (5 for me, 11 for my husband). In all this time and in the midst of the day-to-day grind with my students, I sometimes wonder if God is really awakening the teenagers that I love so much. But this website continually encourages me that He is still good, and He is still drawing you guys into a deep relationship with Him :)
    Now to answer your question! I certainly won’t pretend that I possess the all-encompassing answer to this question because there are a lot of wonderful facets to it that I don’t know yet. But I have definitely been wrestling with this question myself for the past few years, so I can share what I’ve learned so far from the Word and from people much wiser than me!
    I love that you identified the various reasons for lamentation: grief over sin, death, brokenness, and repentance. There is also grief over pure, unadulterated loss (e.g. before God gave Isaac to Sarah, she spent most of her life grieving the “loss” of her dream to have a baby; this is why she laughed the first time when the angel of the LORD told her she would have one). At first glance in the Scriptures, it does seem odd to think about balancing lamentation with joy. How can the two coexist? How can I be happy when I’m sad? And then when we read passages like James 1:2 that says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds…” we can be left feeling terribly confused. At least I certainly have!
    But I think the secret (as in all things) lies in the Gospel. Jesus’ life and work was the perfect example of both deep anguish and simultaneous perfect joy. When you read about Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, you clearly see the incredible suffering He experienced and you hear His words of overwhelming lamentation. “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me…And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:41a,44). Although He was fully God, His full humanity wanted nothing to do with that cross. He had committed no sin, and yet He was about to run to his death to face unimaginable brutality. And so He lamented tremendously. But then you read in Hebrews 12:2b about Jesus’ overarching mentality as He was going to the cross: “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross…” What joy was set before Jesus? The joy of being at home with His Father once again, and the joy of redeeming His lost children back into His loving arms again. And so we see here that in the same instance…both joy and lamentation coexist. How is this possible?
    My husband’s discipler is incredibly wise and compassionate, and his explanation has helped me so much in my own question about this. He calls it “wrestling with hope.” In Genesis 32:22-31, there is a beautiful, little story of a night in Jacob’s life where he wrestled with a man until daybreak (a man many scholars are convinced is God Himself). The man just shows up out of nowhere and starts wrestling with him. But when daybreak comes, the man decides to leave. Jacob, however, stops him and says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Jacob recognized that he wasn’t throwing it down with just any ordinary person. He knew the man was God, and he knew he needed the Lord’s blessing. The man does bless him by changing his name from Jacob to Israel, which means “one who has striven with God and has overcome.” And then the man pulls Jacob’s hip out of socket (leaving Jacob to walk differently for the rest of his life), and leaves. Shortly afterward, Jacob became the father of God’s beloved nation.
    My husband’s discipler says that it is GOOD to wrestle with God. Sometimes as Christians we think that we have to have it altogether. We aren’t allowed to experience suffering or we’re seen as weak. We have to be happy all the time. And we certainly aren’t allowed to be upset with God or doubt anything He says or does. Although I’m not presuming that you think this way, I know that I’ve thought this for most of my 24 years of life, and that in the South (where we live), this is the common cultural ideology within the Church. But God doesn’t want robots in relationship with Him…He desires real people to be in a relationship with a real God. Bring your real self: the good, the bad, and even the ugly. So He invites us to wrestle with Him, no matter what that wrestling entails. Whether we are lamenting over the death of a parent or relative we love, or lamenting over why we keep committing that same sin over and over again, or even lamenting when we have a dream, yet God seems to be leading us in a different direction. He invites us to pour our tears out at His feet, just as Jesus Himself did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even if this means that sometimes we get mad at God. Jonah did it. Elijah did it. David did it. Godlier people than us have been angry with the Lord. Yet He is big enough and kind enough to hold the weight of our anger with compassion and understanding. I know I’ve spent most of my walk with Jesus being angry at Him (crazy, right?!) I was angry because I was in pain, and I didn’t understand how He could love me when I was still struggling with the same sins and then when tragedy happened to me on top of that. But now I see differently because of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life over the years, and I love Him deeper than I ever did before as I’ve seen Him heal me through the lamentation.
    So that leads me to my final point: in the midst of the depths of our pain…He invites us to hope with the hope of resurrection.
    See, Jesus could endure the cross for the joy set before Him because He knew that He would rise again from death. Death was not going to be the end for Him. And because He lives within us in His Holy Spirit, death will not be the end for us either. We can cry, weep, or groan, and yet we can also know that our crying, weeping, and groaning will only last for a moment. “Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b)” Joy comes in the morning. Because Jesus lives, you will be completely set free from all your sins one day. You will see victory in your flesh (even on this side of eternity). You will be with your departed loved ones again (if they knew the Lord). And your eyes will one day behold face-to-face the One your soul loves by faith now.
    So let the Holy Spirit guide your emotions. This is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said, “Yet not my will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42b).” Submit to the One Who loves you, even in the midst of your pain. Believe, by faith, that God doesn’t allow ANYTHING to happen to you that is not first filtered through His hands of love for you (a wise girl friend taught me this). All things He allows to happen to you are BECAUSE He loves you, even if that doesn’t make sense at the time. And He redeems all evil (whether our sin, the sin of others, or the sin of a fallen world) into our good and His glory.
    So if the Holy Spirit leads you into a season of grieving, then grieve deeply. Don’t hold anything back. Weep with the One Who loves you beyond all else. Even in that season of lamentation, there will wonderful moments of joy that you never thought possible (I’ve experienced this in so many ways in my own walk with Jesus). And then if He leads you into a season of moving on, take baby steps of faith at a time, based on His promises, and watch how He continues to fill you with His joy. No matter how we feel when life happens to us, we can know that joy and lamentation CAN coexist because Jesus has rescued us from final death.
    So I conclude with this Psalm as a guide for how to pray your lamentation to the Lord with hope-filled joy. Personalize this prayer as you’re processing grieving with God:
    [Psalm 13 NIV]
    How long, LORD? Will You forget me forever?
    How long will You hide Your face from me?
    How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
    Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
    and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
    But I trust Your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in Your salvation.
    I will sing the LORD’s praise,
    for He has been good to me.

  • I absolutely think that there is place for lament in the Christian life. I think that there needs to be a respectful period of time where someone is allowed process, cry, vent, doubt and just be human. Yes there is a time for advice and affirming that God is teaching us lessons in suffering. But too often I find my Christian brothers and sisters completely skipping the lamenting part of suffering and impulsively jumping towards advice, teaching and speaking.
    When I ask “How long O Lord? How long shall you hide your face from me?” I am not cursing God or questioning His power or goodness, I am simply expressing the hurt that I feel on such a deep level. Lamenting is not complaining. Lamenting is saying “Why God? Why do you allow this to happen?” but also saying, “Yet, you are still good and faithful.”
    I remember when I posted a lement expressing how heavy my heart is about the atrocities and injustice that is happening in the World. I got so many comments about how I shouldn’t be “questioning the goodness of God” or “cursing His name.” I am not at all doubting the goodness of God. I am showing that I am hurting deeply with the tragedy and evil takes place every day all around the world. I am expressing the compassion that I have for the World through lament. The Psalms is a good example of that. David himself doubted, he questioned, cried out in agony!

  • Christina McCarty

    A story comes to mind that was told by the Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand; he was speaking to a Christian who faced extreme persecution for the Lord, and he was asking him why he seemed to be so sad if he had the joy of knowing Christ. The man replied that he did have the eternal joy of the Lord deep inside him, but because of the difficulties he was experiencing he was unable to be consistently happy. We are made in the image of God, and we know that God has emotions and expresses them, that’s where we get the ability to feel, from our Father. When Paul spoke of counting it all joy when you face trials, I believe the kind of joy he was talking about was the deep, eternal, unshakeable joy that comes from knowing Christ. A myriad of emotions flow through us in various seasons of our lives, and as Hannah said, if we are grieving we should grieve deeply. On the flip side, if we are joyful we should be so abundantly, and feel free to experience and express those feelings (in appropriate times and ways, of course).

  • John Oxide

    Not to be completely cheesy, but watch Inside Out. I love the scene, after Joy and Sadness, come back where Riley and her parents are just hugging and you get the sense there’s a lot of sadness there. But there’s also great peace and joy.

    Sometimes we think we can get happy by ignoring our problems, but I think true happiness comes when we face our fears and our grief and we hand it over to God with the attitude of prayer of “Just hold me.”

    Jesus himself wept, but he died for “the joy that was set before Him.” He died for us. If our love for God is so great, it will change us.

    When I saw the question recently about weather it’s wrong to have entertainment that includes fear, it struck me just how blatantly fearless we are. We’re so prone to see the evil in the world and assume we should be afraid of that, when really who we should fear most is God. And I do think that means more than reverence. It means awe. It means this is so incredible. This is so much greater than me. I’m so unfaithful and undeserving and Wow! And fall on the floor in terror-that kind of fear.

    I think when we see how huge God is our attitude should be, “This sin, death, brokenness is so much greater than me. But you are so much greater than it.”

    And in terms of repentance we should say, “Abba Papa, I’ve wronged you. I’ve turned away from you. I rejected YOU who died on the cross to save me. Who created me. Who created EVERYTHING. Who has NEVER done ANYTHING wrong. And ALWAYS does what’s BEST. I have forsaken you, but still YOU reach out your love and your hand and your joy and I’m sorry. Please come get me!!!” And reach out and trade this shame and grief for joy and glory.

    • Haven Asnip

      Amen!

  • Okie Gal

    Some things are just sad. Life tear us apart and there’s nothing wrong with feeling it. It’s just part of living in a fallen world.

    Our joy comes, not because we’ve escaped that brokenness, but because we know we will.

    So when a Christian is hurting, they hurt. But they rejoice because they know God is working. Someday, somehow, it will turn out for their good, and better than that, Jesus will get more glory in that the he ever would have if they had gone painless.

    Our joy comes because the pain will do more good than comfort or peace, and our tears are working for us.

    • Okie Gal

      Just another perspective, this spoken word poem gives a beautiful light on pain and joy, plus it’s pretty much been my anchor for the last few months: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EngsY_vuDds

  • Laura Jenae

    I totally agree with so many of the great comments that have been shared and so appreciate this topic.

    One point I would like to share is that the focus of our lament is crucial. I know many have mentioned this, but our lament should be in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and through comparing to the standard of God’s Word. No lamenting is without the hope we have in what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, and as Psalm 42 highlights, there is hope:
    “Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
    Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.”

    The dangerous pitfall of lament is that we often turn the focus to ourselves. The attitude of “How could I have done this?” is often actually very prideful. The fact is that we ARE sinners in need of God’s grace. He accomplished it through salvation, but we also need his sustaining grace every day. God has greatly been teaching me to take the focus off of myself and my perfectionistic tendencies, and to instead rely on Him and remember what HE has done and will continue to do in my life.

  • DanE

    I’ll be watching this discussion.

  • My youth pastor says that happiness is based on happenings but joy is based in Jesus.
    Amidst life’s struggles and pains we can have joy because we know that this isn’t the end. We may not be happy but we have joy

  • I bumped into this passage in my Bible reading today and it’s perfect for this question. It’s from 2 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives the church at Corinth an absolutely scathing rebuke. But they repented, and here’s what Paul said about their lament in regards to repentance and stuff. Focus on verses 10 and 11 =)

    2 Corinthians 7: 6-13

    But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

    10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted.

  • I think it is just showing us life and the many examples of people who lived it and what happened to them according to their choices. It is like a journal kept for us today. When we try, we can see where the stories line up with things happening today. Life isn’t always happy and the Bible is showing us that there are ways to deal with life, and it shows us the consequences of our actions–good and bad.
    God has not given us the spirit of fear, so we can’t be afraid of the ups and downs in life. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
    There are many prophecies and stories told in the Bible, warning us and preparing us for today’s crazy world. Christ can’t come until all the prophecies are fulfilled. The scriptures talk about wars and rumors of wars. It is how it is.
    God is in control. He knows of the heartbreak and loss. He sees his children hurting each other on this gorgeous earth he created. It hurts him, but he knows it must happen before the Second Coming.
    This is a broken world and its hurting. But we can help to make it better.

  • Another thing is that Jesus wept. His heart was utterly shattered multiple times. He wept over the state of Jerusalem. He wept for his friend Lazarus. I think we have to ask God to break our hearts for what breaks his. The state of a human soul is eternal. It should tear us apart that even one may slip into eternity never hearing about Jesus and his work on the cross. Keeping our eyes set on eternity keeps the world in perspective.

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