My brother Tripp died unexpectedly when I was in college. When I returned to school, still shell-shocked from his funeral, I was met with a barrage of friendly fire in the form of “Christian comfort.” One after another, friends offered snippets of hope: “God works all things for good,” “God is in control,” “His ways are higher than our ways.” These remarks were meant to give me hope and comfort; they were received as notices that my grief was making everyone uncomfortable and I needed to get back to normal soon. So I pushed my grief aside and pretended to move on.
In those dark days, I wish I had read Lamentations.
Writing after the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the author wails over all Israel has lost because of their disobedience to God. Lamentations doesn’t provide quick, easy answers for grief. Instead, the movement through despair is slow and laborious. Using language that anchors us deep in the nation’s suffering—words like “anguish,” “desolation” and “groaning”—the author forces us to gaze in detail at the grotesque suffering of his people. He tells us of a nation abandoned by its closest allies (1:2). He narrates horrific stories of mothers boiling their children to eat them (4:10). He voices the unending weeping for all that was lost.
It’s as if there is inward work that must be done in the author, in the people—perhaps in us—before any of us are allowed to look forward to life after the misery.
I often wish I had been given permission to mourn this way after Tripp’s death. I wish I had told a friend about sitting in the waiting room all night as his vitals crashed and then steadied, over and over. I wish I had explained to someone how I felt when his wife had to make the impossible decision to end life support when it became apparent he was brain-dead. I wish I had told them what I had lost and would never have again. Instead, compelled by the constant “hope” offered, I ignored the grief and pretended everything was fine. It wasn’t until three years later—when I began writing out my anguish and slowly working through every detail—that I was honest about the turmoil inside.
Lamentations abandons the appearance of superhuman emotional strength—which we often commend as godly strength—and opts for open mourning instead. It gives us permission to settle down into mourning, engage with suffering, and weep.
Although hope is delayed in Lamentations, grief is always directed toward God. The writer drags us through his muck and then calls out to God, “See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious” (1:20). He begs God to see his suffering, take part in this grief, and act in mercy (1:11, 20–22; 2:18–22).
And when we are finally ready for light to pierce the darkness, Lamentations offers these words: “Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22–23). The writer encourages the mourners to wait quietly for salvation, knowing that God will not cast off His disobedient people forever. We now know that this promise begins its fulfillment in the first coming of Christ and will be fully realized when He comes again.
Lamentations even points to Christ: “He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver … He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink” (3:13, 15). The savior, pierced in the side and given gall to drink, suffered for us on a cross. And it’s His suffering that enables us to look to a future where every tear is wiped away (Rev 21:4).
Biblical references are from the New International Version (NIV).