The Absence of Joy is a Tragedy

As I near the end of my study of Lamentations, I have a single, simple observation to share today. This one comes from chapter 5 of the book.

Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
look, and see our disgrace! (Lam 5:1)

The opening verse of this final chapter frames the entirety of what follows. The author asks the Lord to see and remember the disgrace of his people. Verses 2–18 chronicle some of those disgraces. One of these caught my attention.

The joy of our hearts has ceased;
our dancing has been turned to mourning. (Lam 5:15)

In the midst of lamenting the death of parents (Lam 5:3) and the rape of young women (Lam 5:11), naming the people’s lack of joy seems trivial. It sounds like wondering why you can’t get fancy ice cream in the middle of a famine. Joy is nice, but isn’t it a luxury?

But this may say more about our misunderstanding of joy than it does some imbalance in the author of Lamentations. Perhaps joy is more central to the human experience—or at least to the heartbeat of God’s people—than we acknowledge. It may be that the presence of joy is a core part of our collective dignity.

I’m not arguing that life should be endless celebration. That would be a tough position to take after studying Lamentations! But when we mourn and grieve for what is lost, it is right for us to mention joy. It is no coincidence that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–23) and that the psalmists consistently exhort us to rejoice (see Psalm 32:11; 40:16; 64:10). Where the Holy Spirit is present and vibrant in God’s people, there will be joy, so when joy is absent, that is cause for lament indeed.

The life of the Christian will be a mixture of joy and sorrow, celebration and grief. Just as lament is to be a part of the regular practice of God’s people, so is rejoicing. At minimum, this should be evident in our weekly gatherings for public worship.

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