Learning to Lament in the Midst of Tragedy

Lament

Christians need to learn to lament. We live in a culture that prefers to hide sadness, and too often, Christians have been found doing the same.

Every day, we encounter people who are suffering because of loss, instability, pain or regret and they lament because of it. And every day, Christians offer intellectual answers to the emotional turmoil that so many victims of tragedy experience, bypassing any need for lament.

We look up our favourite suffering-will-make-me-a-better-person verse and stamp them on the victims of tragic turmoil.  I hear it said all the time that since “Jesus will use your suffering for good to make you a better person,” you shouldn’t be sad.

Though the statement about Jesus is true, the conclusion about emotional repression is absolutely false.

Here’s a question that might be worth asking: How should Christians  respond to tragedies that involve violence, hate, suffering and death without disqualifying the reality and immensity of their grief? How can our faith in Jesus as Lord ultimately be a source of joy while being honest about the dysfunction of suffering and death? How can we point to something worth hoping for without giving pat answers about “sanctification” and how suffering will “make you a better person”?

It’s easy to miss, but there’s something mistakenly unhealthy about this common scenario because it fails to take into account the complexity of the biblical narrative and how Jesus himself responds to tragedy.

On the one hand, the Bible is full of claims that God redeems suffering. He reveals himself as the Redeemer of his people and the whole of creation. Indeed, the entire biblical narrative is largely about the how God promises to redeem a creation inked with suffering, violence, and brokenness.

Despite this, nowhere in the Bible do we get the idea that a victim of tragedy should silence their cry, hide away their tears and pretend that it’s all okay.

Nowhere in the Bible is the suppression of honest feelings equated to holiness.  Instead, an entire book in the Bible is dedicated to the very necessary human response to Lament.

Learning to lament is part of what it means to be human. And we see this throughout the Bible:

The great psalmist David expressed every emotion in his psalms and in the midst of tragedy and grief invited his people to lament with him (2 Samuel 1). Not only did he sing this lament but taught his people to learn and live in it, despite God’s faithfulness to redeem the situation.  When Mary and Martha lose their brother, they lament. Mary laments with particular gusto, expressing her wishes that Jesus should have been there sooner. Was she wrong? 

The narrative of suffering for many Christians doesn’t fit with the next part of the story. For many, Jesus should have just told Mary and Martha to stop being sad.

Instead, Jesus does what nobody could have guessed: he weeps. The God who makes himself into a man reveals how deeply he has tied himself to the creation he loves with real, physical, tears. This is the character of God; one who responds to tragedy not with a simple answer, but with his humanity.

The Gospel is not about a God who takes all the pain away with the click of a button, but one who enters in with great compassion and empathy, making a way possible for a redeemed and resurrected world.

In our pain, in our suffering, when we experience violence, abuse and exploitation, the God of the Bible does not stand afar, but enters into the suffering, offering his tears. Only when we see a tearful God, could we begin to hope for a redeemed future.

This is part of what it takes to become a mature human being: learning to grieve with those who grieve, to cry with those who cry, and to mourn with those who mourn. When we learn to lament with one another, we are learning to take up our cross as a communal act, and only then will we be ready to experience the miracle and mystery of the resurrection.