Real men cry: a study of lamentation
Sure men cry. I am not talking about the tear shed from watching Bambi, a favorite chick flick, seeing your team lose the Super Bowl or cutting an onion for dinner. What about the true gut wrenching weep of sorrow. Men can be painfully shy. To pouring out their hearts before God to be seen as less than masculine.
What I am talking about is sacred sorrow. The kind of sorrow you have at injustice or self-inflicted judgment and the only thing you can turn to is God. The book of Lamentations is a fitting thesis for sacred sorrow. The theme of Lamentations is the God who is Righteous and Faithful. The author of these poems is a real dude who is really crying. And you can see why:
The scene depicted in Lamentations is so bad that the author has to find some simile to relate to what is reality. He can still smell the rot and hear the wailing of horrific bloodshed. Jerusalem is desolate. Jerusalem is pictured as a lonely widow, weeping the death of her beloved. She once was a queen, full of splendor, invisible to attack, but now is a abandoned as a slave. She is like a raped virgin that has been rejected and cannot find anyone to comfort her. No one is invincible to God’s wrath, not even His own people. The question is not “why” has this affliction occurred for the people know God is punishing their sin.
God who was seemingly absent is now back with vengeance as an angry “enemy” who has “cast down the splendor of Israel” and “in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” (2:1) God who had once protective presence upon His people had now become a fierce storm cloud of anger. He use to fight for them, but now He is against them as their enemy as He has “thrown Israel down without pity” (2:17).
And then in the midst or ruin and rubble comes the turning point of the lament. A glimmer of hope. Exhausted towards God His enemy (3:18) the author pours out one of the richest lines of hope in God (3:22-24):
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”
The author praises God despite being bruised and bloody, hungry and destitute. “It is good to wait quietly for Him…to hope in Him…to seek Him.” Can you get any more realistic than this? There is hope in a God who is his enemy, but whose “compassion never fails.” The author may be left alone in silence, may have to bury his face in the dust or give his cheek to the one who strikes, but God promises “men are not cast off by the Lord forever.” (3:28-31)
The author acknowledges that they are now orphans, weary, hungry, bearing the punishment for their fathers sins, women are ravished, princes hung by their hands, ruled by slaves, joy has ceased, and their dancing has turned to mourning. He pleads in prayer to the the LORD to “remember” them (5:1) that they might be “restored” (5:21). In the midst of their cataclysmic circumstances there is hope in the LORD who “reigns forever” and whose “throne endures to all generations” (5:19). This God, the only God, is again to begin again with the people.
What can we learn from Lamentations?
A theology of Suffering from A to Z. Lamentations reveals a complete and exhaustive expression of sorrow. The suffering of Lamentations explains the ways of God to humanity. Human suffering always brings about probing questions about God. The faith of many Jews must have been shattered by the events of Jerusalem’s destruction for they believed that Jerusalem was invisible and that God’s temple could not be destroyed because He dwelt there.
Lamentations gives us a glimpse into individual suffering (Ch.3) and national suffering (Ch.5). Lamentations that helps us gain a perspective on suffering when we see the famine, warfare and genocide in places like Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, and countless others. Suffering can make you bitter towards God or better understand God’s purposes.1 From the personalization of the author and front-row-seat depictions of the nations suffering we see suffering mixed with hope. Lamentations is a “theodicy”: despair amid suffering should always give root to hope in the presence and rule of God. Here are some principles Lamentation offers as a theology on suffering, when suffering comes:
- Confess your sins (1:5, 8, 18, 20, 22).
- Recognize who is the Judge (2:1-8, 17).
- Give special attention to God’s leaders (4:16).
- Pray for the future (5:1, 21-22).
- Hope in God (3:21-42).
A Balance between God’s Righteousness and Hesed. Throughout the painful memories of Lamentations God’s righteousness is never throw to the wayside. God’s judgment is not viewed as wrong by those who strolled through Jerusalem’s ashes, rather they see their sinful ways. God keeps His promises of punishment for disobedience. “The LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (2:17).
His righteousness demands that sin be dealt with fairly. He is also faithful to Israel and will be their hope for the future (3:22-23; cf Deut.30; Is.65-66; Jer.30-33; Ezek.36-37). His faithfulness (hesed) demands His promises to be kept. God’s righteousness and faithfulness are equally relevant facets to the nature of God, which are illustrated horrifically and beautifully in Lamentations.
Sacred sorrow is okay as long as one acknowledges that God is righteous and faithful. Praise God in the midst of pain (3:21-42). There must come a point in our lamenting that is it turned to joy. In the case of Lamentations, out of the destruction rose a song of praise for the faithfulness of God.
“How” not “why”. When sin is in the “camp” we must not question God’s vengeance for it is the inevitable promise for disobedience. Rather we must access the consequences of how His vengeance is displayed in our lives and how we will will respond. Jerusalem’s wounds were self-inflicted. The book of Lamentations is one long illustration of the eternal principle that “a man reaps what he sows.” (Gal.6:7b)
When all is gone, all you have is all you need. Everything is destroyed, the days seem dark and God distant He is still there. We have a hope in the God who reigns forever. God does not abandon those who turn to Him for help.