Lament in the Background of Romans 8

I’m open to the accusation that, after spending two years thinking hard about lament, I see it where others do not. I may have turned into the man who is given a hammer and, suddenly, nails abound.

Yet there remains the possibility that we don’t spot lament at times because modern Christians are terribly out of practice. Lament was a regular part of worship for ancient Israel, and I suspect it was much more prevalent in the early Christian church than in present-day congregations. Especially in more affluent communities, lament can be seen as an unknown taste, an exotic flavor one might sample on a tour but which is out of place in the regular rhythms of Christian worship.

Let’s consider Romans, chapter 8, as a case study. We tend to think of this chapter for its memorable, soaring statements about the love of God. However, it might be better to see the end of Romans 8 as the last stage of lament, where Paul is working out what it means to hope in God in the midst of great suffering.

The Ingredients of Lament

I’m not claiming that Romans 8 is an example of lament. But the ingredients of lament are here, so Romans 8 is evidence that lament was a tool Paul used to process and reflect on sorrow in his life.

Turn to the Lord

The first ingredient of lament, as Mark Vroegop describes it, is to turn to the Lord. Again, Romans 8 is not a prayer, but it is sprinkled with both references to and explicit teaching about prayer.

  • The Spirit of adoption causes us to cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15).
  • The Spirit also helps us pray, because we don’t know how to pray as we should. He “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” We can be sure that the Spirit prays according to the will of God for us (Romans 8:26–27).

Complain

A central part of lament is complaining to the Lord. Though this may make us uncomfortable, we have plentiful examples in the Bible to reassure and guide us. Paul mentions aspects of complaint in Romans 8.

  • The creation has been subjected to futility, it is in bondage to corruption (Romans 8:20–21). As God’s stewards, a corrupted creation is a source of frustration and grief.
  • The creation groans in the pains of childbirth; we also groan as we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22–23). The new bodies we long for—with freedom from the curse—have not yet arrived.

Though Paul mentions suffering as well (see Romans 8:35–37), these are perhaps the only verses which could be viewed as complaint in Romans 8.

Ask Boldly

Because this is not a prayer of lament but evidence of lament in Paul’s life, we don’t have any specific requests in this chapter. However, we do have Paul’s reminders that the Spirit (Romans 8:26–27) and the Son (Romans 8:34) intercede for us. This is great motivation to pray and should give us confidence when we do so. (Remember, not every lament includes all of the “ingredients” of lament.)

Trust in the Lord

It is this last element of lament which is so prevalent in this chapter, which is why I see this chapter, in part, as the fruit of Paul’s practice of lament. I won’t list all the numerous ways Paul exhorts us to trust and hope in the Lord here. But here is a selection.

  • Though we suffer, there is glory to be revealed to us. In fact, the suffering doesn’t even compare to the glory! (Romans 8:18)
  • There is hope built into the creation for freedom from bondage. We share this same hope for new creation bodies (Romans 8:20–25).
  • Though we may not understand it, we can trust God in prayer because the Father knows the mind of the Spirit who intercedes for us (Romans 8:27).
  • All things—especially this groan-inducing suffering—work together for good for God’s beloved children. This “good” includes being made into the image of Jesus and sharing in his glory! (Romans 8:28–30)
  • The final paragraphs of this chapter are eloquent and justifiably memorable—nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31–39).

Lament for the Rest of Us

Few of us will come out of lament with this same Spirit-given swell of hope. But Romans 8 is another encouragement for us not to shy away from talking with God about the hard things in life.

We can take our pain and sadness and confusion to him. We don’t need to pretend to have the right words, posture, or attitude. God may seem distant, but he is with us to the very last drop of our sorrow.

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Lament as an Evangelistic Tool

Lament is a healthy, normal, and helpful practice for our churches to embrace. God might even use it to draw in those who don’t yet believe.

No one would confuse lament for one of the 4 Spiritual Laws. And yet, lament seems like an especially useful way to connect with unbelievers in the modern world.

Some might protest that lament is not attractive to those outside the church, that a lamenting church might drive people away by focusing too much on sorrow. (I probably would have reacted the same way two years ago.) However, this objection misunderstands both lament and what God in Christ promises his followers.

For a person or church growing in this area, lament can be a useful evangelistic tool. In what follows I’ll defend this claim and explain how it might look within a friendly conversation.

Why Lament is Attractive

Lament is an honest reckoning with the sin and suffering in the world. There are no painted-on smiles or sugar-thin promises of the life you’ve always wanted. Lament is a raw grieving before the Lord and a hopeful turning to trust him in the middle of that grief.

Most people feel the deep pains of life but don’t have anywhere to take that pain. Some might vent to friends or talk with a therapist, but many keep their hurt inside. We humans aren’t very good at processing our sorrow.

Along with pain, our unbelieving friends and neighbors may feel great confusion. If they do not acknowledge a God who is sovereign, then who or what is behind their suffering? If they do not acknowledge a God who is loving, then how can they escape the pain?

It is refreshing to talk to people who are honest about the pain in the world and are working through it. Lamenters make no promises of happy endings and lay no claims to having all the answers. But Christians can (and should) hold out love and purpose and belonging. A healthy church is a family who helps, grieves, and suffers with those who hurt.

Even more importantly, a healthy church points to a Savior. Jesus not only suffers with us now, but he suffered for us in history. Ultimately, this is the strength of lament as an evangelistic tool—it can easily lead to a conversation about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can lament now because of what he has accomplished for us and because we’re united to him.

Turning from Lament to Jesus

How might a Christian might invite others to consider Jesus based on their own experience of lament?

The first step is the most obvious. Start lamenting! Lament is not reserved for the big and ugly griefs of life. Everyone alive on planet Earth has reason to lament. (If you’re new to lament, check out some of my articles on the theme.)

Turning outward, engage people around you and pay attention as they talk. Listen to them. It usually takes only a few questions before you have a ready avenue (if they’re willing) to talk about a hardship, grief, or sadness.

In your subsequent conversations, talk about your own laments. Share how God has designed this as a way for his people to speak to him, even to complain to him, about their circumstances and feelings. Lead your friend to the cross, to the reason Jesus cried out in lament at his hour of greatest anguish. Lament only exists because of sin! There are numerous other on-ramps from lament to the gospel of Christ.

Communicating God’s Saving Love

Lament is not the only way we should pray, and it should not be our only topic of conversation. But God may use our practice of this holy conversation to show others that their pain is not wasted. He may use this to communicate his saving love to our neighbors.

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Six Things Lament is Not

As I continue to ruminate on Biblical lament, I want to clarify and develop what this practice is and what it is not. Lament is new for many people, including me, and this short post is intended to clear up confusion and reduce unhelpful caricatures.

Lament is Not Unusual

Judging by the Biblical record, lament is a common type of prayer for God’s people. Roughly one third of the Psalms contain aspects of lament, there is an entire book called Lamentations, and laments show up in other places in Scripture. The Israelites lamented their harsh treatment in Egypt (Exodus 2:23–25), Hannah lamented her barrenness (1 Samuel 1:10, 15), and Jesus lamented the rebellion in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34–35). Significantly, Jesus himself lamented on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

The existence of lament Psalms and the book of Lamentations show us that lament was not reserved for occasional, tragic events. Lament is appropriate in those drastic times, but it was also part of the ongoing, regular worship of God’s people. As those living under the weight of the curse, these portions of Scripture give us words for our groaning (Romans 8:22–23).

Lament is Not Natural

It doesn’t take much for humans to grumble against the Lord. From small frustrations and disappointments to large tragedies and sorrows, our impulse is to find fault.

When we meet hardship, our natural state is grumbling. But it takes faith to lament. While grief may be the trigger for lament, its foundation is the goodness and sovereignty of God. Bringing our anguish and mourning to God wouldn’t make sense if he weren’t listening, caring, powerful, and similarly grieving at the broken state of the world.

Lament is Not Grumbling

Lament is a difficult practice for some Christians because they’ve been told from their earliest days not to complain. They should swallow their sadness and anger, put on a happy face, and be thankful.

But this betrays an important misunderstanding. Both grumbling and lament are examples of complaining—one is prohibited in the Bible and one is not.

Lament, properly understood, is not a rebellious raised fist. Lament is a complaint on the bent knees of faith.

Lament is Not Pessimistic

I sense that some people get tired of hearing about lament. We get it, lament is important. But must you focus so much on the bad stuff?

A fair question! I hope that in my personal relationships I am not overly mournful. However, it strikes me that lament is a very natural, honest response to living in a fallen world. Just as thanksgiving should be a regular occurrence for Christians, so should lament.

Lament is not pessimistic, because while it contains complaints it does not end there. The result of lament should be hopeful trust in the Lord. Those who think lament is wallowing in sadness have an incomplete understanding of the practice.

Lament is Not UnChristian

Lament is not only an ancient Jewish practice. Rightly understood, it is an explicitly Christian one.

In addition to godly complaint, lament involves bold requests and, ultimately, trusting the Lord. As Mark Vroegop explains, Christians know that God is good and that he keeps his promises—he is trustworthy. The crucified, resurrected, and exalted Jesus is the key to Christian lament, turning honest expressions of grief into worshipful trust.

Lament is Not Forever

Certain parts of our Christian experience will continue and even grow through eternity. Fellowship, thanksgiving, and singing fall in this category.

But lament will cease. We should learn and practice it now, but one day there will be no use for lament any more.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

There will be no more mourning or crying or pain. There will be no more curse because of sin. We will not feel the aches of loss and decay and desperation that are so much a part of our current lives. Be honest—it’s hard to imagine such an existence!

But this is the great end of lament. When we lament, what we long and pray and strive for is not just a resolution to the particular pain or grief we are feeling. Because of the great work of Jesus for us, in lament we stretch out for the end of all loss and brokenness.


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Complaint and the Christian

From my earliest days as a Christian, I heard that believers must not complain. Older saints equated complaining with a rebellious spirit, quoted Philippians 2:14 to me, and sent me on my way.

However, when I started reading about lament in 2020, one fact was inescapable. Complaint is an essential part of lament. Mark Vroegop writes that “without a complaint, there would be no lament” (Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, page 43).

Therefore, if lament is a biblical form of prayer, and if complaint is a necessary component of lament, then complaint cannot be inherently sinful.

Complaint in the Bible

We have scores of examples of complaint in the Bible. Let’s begin with some prayers of lament.

Psalm 10 is a lament psalm in which the psalmist complains about his arrogant, wicked enemy. Worse, it feels as though he faces his enemy without the Lord.

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

Psalm 22 is more famous, elevated by Jesus when he quoted from this song on the cross (Matthew 27:46). Again, the psalmist wants to know where God is.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1–2)

(There are many, many more examples of lament psalms in the Bible. Here are three to get you started: Psalms 42, 43, and 94.)

In addition to examples of complaint, we also read of God responding to complaints.

But I call to God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice. (Psalm 55:16–17)

It seems unlikely that David could have recounted this if complaint was something God despised. Here’s one more.

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from dread of the enemy. (Psalm 64:1)

Other specific mentions of complaint occur in places like Psalm 142:2 and Jeremiah 12:1.

Adjusting Our Vocabulary

To be sure, complaint can be sinful. As humans, it often is! Ungodly complaint is our default mode of addressing an objection with God.

However, when we prohibit all complaint, this is not only unbiblical but it pushes Christians away from lament—one of God’s gracious pathways back to himself in the midst of suffering.

I think adjusting our terms might help. Complaint is too broad of a category; there are both godly and ungodly kinds of complaint. Instead, we might refer to grumbling and lament as two specific types of complaint. (It’s worth noting that the ESV uses “grumbling” in Philippians 2:14 where the NASB uses “complaining.”)

Grumbling versus Lamenting

If these words are to be helpful, we must define and distinguish between them.

To grumble is to insist we deserve better, that God is treating us unfairly, perhaps with ill intent. To see this in action, look at the way “grumble” is used in Exodus 15–17, Numbers 14–17, or Matthew 20:11–12. A grumbler is entitled, proud, bitter, angry, and demanding.

To lament is to cry to the Lord in the midst of pain and suffering from the foundation of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and promises. Lament points to the distance between how things are and how they might be if God’s kingdom were fully and finally realized.

(I recognize here that “lament” more commonly refers to the biblical prayer of which this godly complaint is a part, while I am using “lament” in this section to refer to the complaint itself. I hope the reader will allow for a little fuzziness in service of the larger point.)

Invitation to Lament

The distinction in the previous section is not meant to sanitize lament. Biblical lament will likely be uncomfortable for Christians who have absorbed the command not to complain.

However, though lament is raw and unseemly at times, it is entirely appropriate for confused, suffering, wounded Christians. It is God’s prescription for processing grief—both individually and corporately—in his presence.

As Christians, let’s never be grumblers. But, until the final day of the Lord, let’s lament in faith, with hope.


If you’re new to lament, I recommend meditating on some Psalms of lament. Reading through the book of Lamentations would also be a good exercise. Finally, the first half of Mark Vroegop’s book defined the ingredients of biblical lament for me in really helpful ways.

Disclosure: The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.

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Lamenting Like a Christian

It takes no particular religious conviction to complain about the world. But lament is different. The Bible shows us how God’s people throughout time have lamented as his people.

So what does it look like to lament as a Christian? How do we bring our sorrows and pain to God in a way that is specific to followers of Jesus?

Full of Faith

Biblical lament is full of faith. Those who lament know both the character and promises of God. They know God himself. At the same time, the pain and sorrow they suffer in the world don’t line up with what they know of God.

Here is the spark in the furnace of lament for each believer: My anguish in the world doesn’t match the reality I’d expect if the God I know had fully and finally set everything right.

That gap between our knowledge of God and our experience of the world is the space for faith. We need not have watertight answers or certain solutions, but we can turn to trust the one who holds all things together, knowing he is good and wise.

Broken By the Fall

Adam and Eve were the first king and queen of God’s world, and when they fell, everything came crashing down. All the groans ever groaned can be traced back to that original sin.

To be sure, some of the sickness and tragedy on earth may result directly from sinful deeds, evidence of God’s pointed judgment. But this is incredibly hard to discern; it’s safer to say that our hardships are traceable to the general broken state of the world we inherit and in which we participate.

The reasons for lament point to the brokenness of the world, and that brokenness points to sin. It’s exactly this simple: Without sin, the world—our bodies, our relationships, our surroundings—would not be corrupted in any way.

Jesus and the Kingdom

Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom to earth. He came as the perfect human king to rule on God’s throne. And that mission of rule and reconciliation was of necessity also a mission of suffering and sacrifice.

The imperfect and frequently despicable kings of Israel and Judah pointed to the coming of an incorruptible king. When Jesus began his ministry announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15), those steeped in the Old Testament would not have reacted with confusion but relief. He’s here!

Jesus’s miracles were brief, glorious windows into the emerging kingdom of God. The blind would see, the lame would walk, and the hungry would be fed. Sickness would flee, and the dead would rise. In those flickers of restoration we saw the curse being lifted by the corner and peeled back.

As the cross came closer, many around Jesus assumed he would pursue a political path to kingship. This excited some and angered many others. But Jesus spoke of death and resurrection, not coronation. He made it clear (to those with ears to hear) that a fully realized kingdom of God on earth would happen in the future, not immediately. Yet Jesus’s unmistakable resurrection also underlined the fact that his kingdom was imminent.

Final Fullness

Lament is our longing for this full and future kingdom to come now. It is our cry with the apostle John—“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

We want God’s kingdom to arrive in its final fullness with the rightful king on his throne. This king will bear the marks of this world in his scarred body. He himself has traveled a path of pain and agony. The bloody sweat at Gethsemane and the mournful cries on the cross bear witness to Jesus’s journey of lament.

When the end finally comes—when all hopes have been realized and the curse is no more—there will be no more need for lament. We will have our full and final comfort in the form of our strong and kind king. We will be at home and there will be no distance between our experience and our longings.

The Man of Sorrows—who bore our sin, who mourned and lamented in our place—makes our present-day lamenting possible. We lament as Christians when we cry out to God in our pain, trust him to keep his promises, and look ahead to the glorious kingdom that Jesus has secured for us.

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Restore Us to Yourself That We May Be Restored

Most Christians know that sin is bad. But, how bad is it, really?

Sin is a tornado, and the final chapter of Lamentations helps us see the extent of the damage. The consequences of breaking covenant with the Lord are dire. And yet, there is still hope for restoration.

See Our Disgrace

The first verse in this chapter frames much of what follows.

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

The author is asking God to remember, to bring to mind for the purpose of action. Asking God to see and remember is a key part of all lament; those who lament are pleading that God would not forget them in their circumstances.

However, this is an unnatural request, that God would see or notice our disgrace. We usually like to hide those qualities and circumstances that are shameful. But in this situation, those embarrassments are exactly the reason for the lament!

Verses 2–18 provide a list of many disgraces of the people still living in Jerusalem. These disgraces range from the horrifying (deaths of fathers in Lam 5:3, rape of women in Lam 5:11) to the seemingly mundane (the people now have to pay for water and wood, Lam 5:4). To be sure, far more disgraces fall in the first category than the second, but the mingling of the two makes a profound point: Sin has brought judgment which has overturned every aspect of life. Even the loss of music and dancing (Lam 5:14–15) can be considered a tragedy.

One other disgrace is worth mentioning. In Lam 5:16, we read: “The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned!” This is both a confession of sin and a lament about Judah’s inability to rule themselves. They are now in the hands of Babylon. This confession about leadership also sets the stage for verse 19 (see below).

On the whole, this first portion of Lamentations 5 (verses 1–18) shows us that the consequences of sin are real and heartbreaking. There is a direct line between the rebellion of the people and the desolation of Zion, and the present grief and loss are a result of earlier decisions to turn away from God.

Renew Our Days

The chapter takes a bit of a turn in verse 19: “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” Judah may no longer have a king ruling in Jerusalem, but that is not true on a larger scale.

In the midst of lament, acknowledging the sovereignty of God is vital. His rule is not negated by suffering. Pain and sorrow are not in charge—God is. Because grief and sadness feel so immediate and enveloping, God’s people must remind each other of this truth. The Lord reigns now and forever.

Verse 20 takes us into the deep questions of an honest lament. Lord, if you reign, “why do forget us forever?” If you’ve heard that asking “why” questions is forbidden in prayer, think again. God’s people should not accuse him of wrongdoing or blame him for evil, but laments are filled with “why” and “how” questions. (See Psalm 10:135:1742:9, and 43:2 among many examples.)

The author of Lamentations then asks the boldest prayer in the entire book.

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old— (Lamentations 5:21)

The people want Jerusalem to be the way it was, they want to be restored. But they confess that restoration with the Lord must happen first. Jerusalem is in ruins because the people turned away from God, so a vibrant renewal of that covenant relationship is needed before any of the physical blessings can be enjoyed.

There is a good reminder here for modern Christians. When we see brokenness and rebellion in ourselves and others, we should think about the need for repentance and restoration to the Lord. A wayward heart is driving the train which is producing those acts of unrighteousness.

This chapter ends in a way that many Christians through the ages have found unsatisfying. (Apparently, some scribes have recopied verse 21 after verse 22, presumably to prevent the book from ending on a down note!) But tension is inherent in lament, and we need to learn how to embrace that tension if we are to be followers of Jesus who both rejoice and weep (Romans 12:15).

Here is the ending of Lamentations.

unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. (Lamentations 5:22)

The people know God has promised to bring them back from exile (Lam 4:22). And yet they do not know exactly when. God’s righteous anger may mean that this generation will not see the restoration they desire.

This tension—restore us, unless you remain angry with us—is a bit unsettling. But it also serves one of the purposes of lament, to keep us turning back to the Lord again and again. Our prayers may not be answered immediately; our sorrows may remain; we may feel seasick in heart through our years on this groaning earth.

Rejected No More

But God is always ready to receive our lament. He reigns forever, he is wise, and he is loving. For this reason, we can trust him with our pain and grief.

The Israelites wondered whether God had rejected them. We may wonder the same. But in Jesus we have an emphatic, definitive answer. No. Because Jesus bore our sin, we are no longer subject to that same awful judgment that he suffered. “Jesus is the answer to the cause of every pain” (Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop, page 150).

Though we groan, we can look to Jesus, the Man of Sorrows. Because of him, our true, final restoration is secure.

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Solid Bible Promises for Times of Suffering

Creation groans, and we echo that same mournful tune.

We feel the Curse deep inside. We are broken people in a broken world, and no one avoids some measure of suffering. In my article on Lamentations 4, we saw the author arrive at the end of his lament with nothing but a promise of God. We too, at times, may feel like everything is stripped away. Our anguish seems like the most tangible element of life.

But we also have the promises of God! These are good gifts meant to sustain us and stoke our hope for the future.

Which Promises?

The Bible is stuffed with promises. However, we can’t claim every promise we find.

For example, some Bible promises are conditional. Consider Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” We cannot claim that God will meet our every desire unless we are delighting in the Lord.

Further, God made some promises to specific people at specific times (see Joshua 6:2). He made other promises to Israel, and we need to think carefully about whether they carry over to the church and/or individual Christians.

Where does this leave us? We still have many Bible promises that are meant for us. This article focuses on those which are helpful in the midst of suffering.

Promises for Sufferers

I’ve divided these promises into five categories. Learning, digesting, and even memorizing these verses will not eliminate pain or make suffering somehow desirable. But they will help us to trust in the Lord in dark times and to fix our eyes on Jesus.

God is with you

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

Suffering is often extremely personal and therefore isolating. In those times, we can treasure God’s presence with us. He is near to those in anguish, and he has promised never to leave or forsake his children. Nothing at all—not even this present suffering—will be able to separate us from God’s love for us in Christ.

God will comfort and rescue you

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Because God will not abandon us, and because he loves us, he will comfort us in the midst of turmoil and eventually pull us out. Though pain and suffering seem unending, for the children of God, they are not. God will restore and strengthen us, whether on this side of glory or the other.

God will use your suffering for your good

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

God is in the business of turning bad things to good. Affliction prepares us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, and our sufferings produce endurance, character, and hope. Our sufferings in themselves are not good, but God brings good out of them.

Everything will be made new

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51–53)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)

Our groaning bodies will put on immortality. Our new dwelling will be with God himself on a new earth. The mourning and crying and pain we experience now will then only be known as “former things.”

We will be forever with the Lord

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

The promises of a glorified body and a curse-free earth would be nothing without God’s eternal presence. The suffering we experience will be a distant, faint memory because we will live face-to-face forever with our Creator and Redeemer.

(Yes, I have listed Rev 21:3 twice. But it’s jaw-dropping, and we all probably need it twice.)

All By Grace

These promises are ours. But they are ours by grace. Our works deserve God’s wrath, not his blessing. These promises are given to us because we are the children of God, united to Jesus, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31–32)

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Learning to Embrace Tension

Not every story has a satisfying ending. Some clouds lack a silver lining.

Humans have a strong desire for resolution, not just in our own lives, but also for our friends and neighbors. We’re uncomfortable with the in-between, with sadness, with suffering.

Here is one more lesson that lament can offer. Lament teaches us to live with the tensions of life in a fallen world.

Lamentations 5

The end of the last chapter of Lamentations is a snapshot of the entire book.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us. (Lamentations 5:19–22)

I learned recently that, when copying this text, several Hebrew scribes repeated verse 21 after verse 22, presumably because they thought the book should not end on such a down note. I understand that impulse.

But I’ve grown to see that the end of Lamentations is just about the perfect ending for this book. Like lament itself, there is no resolution. There is a question—a gut-wrenching, foreboding question—hanging in the air over that last verse. Yet this very tension keeps us seeking the Lord.

Trusting, trusting

While we know how our ultimate story ends, we don’t know all the details along the way. Not every episode or chapter will be joyous or fulfilling.

Learning to live with the tension of suffering, stubborn sin, difficult relationships, and tragedies helps us to continue trusting the Lord. We need him, we cry out to him, we mourn in his presence when we feel nothing more than a puddle of pain and confusion.

If life was smooth and predictable, it would be much easier to trust in peace, stability, or even the momentum of a string of good days. It would be harder to see our need to trust the Lord.

Similarly, our prayers do not need to be wrapped up with a shiny bow. We don’t need to come to the Lord with a lesson learned or with carefully-chosen, sanctified words. It’s okay to tell God your troubles, to sit with him and ask him why (see Lam 5:20).

Back to God

Tension in our lives and in our prayers is a generous gift of God. Like the end of Lamentations, it keeps us turning back to him, relying on him. Where else could we possibly go?

A tidy plot might be the script we’d write for ourselves, but the tension God gives is closer to what we need.

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Let the Guilty Lament

God has been teaching me much in my study of Lamentations over the past nine months. I’ll share a short one today: one does not need to be innocent to lament.

I’ve never heard anyone claim that innocence is required for lament, but this sort of statement can be absorbed over years of selective Bible reading. Lamentations smashes that statement to bits.

In my mind, there are two obvious examples in the Bible of crying out for deliverance. The first one is King David.

David wrote a good portion of the Psalms, many while on the run from Saul or other enemies. When he asks God for deliverance, he frequently appeals to his own righteousness. Here’s an example.

The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me. (Psalm 7:8)

David is asking for deliverance in this prayer (see Psalm 7:1), and he cites his integrity as the basis on which God should act.

The difference between righteousness and innocence is an important one; perhaps at another time and/or place. For our purposes it’s enough to note that, in this situation, David’s sin is not what got him into trouble.

The other example of crying out to God that sticks in my head is the Israelites in Egypt. God’s people pleaded with him for deliverance from slavery, and God heard them (Exodus 2:23–25). The Israelites were not a perfect people, but they were being oppressed—this is what prompted their cry.

Lamentations is different. This book of prayers arises from rebellious people who have received just judgment from God for their sin. And yet, this cry of lament is included in Scripture! Blamelessness, righteousness, status as an innocent victim—none of these are requirements to come before God in lament.

The author of Lamentations confesses that the people are guilty and have deserved God’s wrath. (See Lam 1:5, 8, 18, 22. Examples abound in chapters 2–5 of the book as well.) And yet, they still come to God. They still describe what they are experiencing and the accompanying pain and sorrow. They know they are to blame for their situation, and they still ask God to see them. They want to be remembered in their suffering, even when the blame for their suffering falls on their own shoulders.

The requests in Lamentations are sparse. In this way, these prayers are much different than psalms. We might expect multiple cries for mercy, for deliverance, for some way out of the present suffering. But there is really only one request like this, at the very end of the book: “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21). Even this request acknowledges the guilt of the people.

God wants the guilty to come to him. To keep praying. Even when they suffer as a result of sin. I find this to be incredibly good news! Not because our sorrow or pain is easily traced back to sinful actions or desires (though occasionally that is the case), but because God is so open to our lament that we can come in any condition. Even those who are dripping with guilt, standing in the smoky ruins of a conquered Jerusalem—these believers can lament before the Lord.

This opens the gate for everyone, every last person who looks to the Lord. God will see. I am guilty; I can lament before the Lord.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus underline this truth. Jesus was the friend of sinners, welcoming the guilty even as he hung on the cross.

Because Jesus brings us to God (1 Pet 3:18), we can go to him, taking our praise, confession, sorrow, thanks, and lament, trusting that he hears.


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How to Find Hope When Hope Has Perished

The book of Lamentations is not dripping with hope. I suspect many avoid the book because it seems so dreary and somber.

But there is hope for God’s people in Lamentations.

My Hope is Gone

Chapter 3 in Lamentations takes a different turn than chapter 1 or chapter 2. God’s judgment earlier was corporate, focused on Israel as a people. In chapter 3, things get personal.

Instead of mourning the destruction of the city or the loss of the temple, now the writer cries out at God’s attacks on his person. God has broken his bones (verse 4), made him dwell in darkness (verse 6), given him heavy chains (verse 7), and even shut out his prayer (verse 8). God is like a lion or a bear hiding in wait for him (verse 10); the writer is a target for God’s arrows (verses 12, 13).

In the start of this chapter, we have an inversion of the way we usually think about God on the side of his people. This writer sees God’s hand against him (verse 3), and instead of protection and joy God has brought him bitterness and tribulation (verse 5). This sorrowful cry escalates until his soul is bereft of peace and he has forgotten what happiness is (verse 17). At the peak of the lament, the writer confesses that both his endurance and his hope have perished (verse 18). Bleak, indeed!

This may seem like an off-limits prayer. Earlier chapters were filled with complaints about the state of the people and city after God brought judgment. Here the writer trims away all of the decorations and strips it down to this crushing truth: God has done terrible things to me.

I Will Yet Hope

The wonderful, memorable verses from Lamentations 3 must be read against this harsh background. What does a person of God do when hope has perished?

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
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.” (Lamentations 3:21–24)

The key to our understanding and application of verses 22–24 is found in verse 21. How do we harvest hope from a hopeless situation? We don’t. We remind ourselves (“call to mind”) of what is true that we cannot see.

Lamentations shows us that hope does not come from a change of circumstances. Rather, it comes from what you know to be true despite the situation in front of you. In other words, you live through suffering by what you believe, not by what you see or feel. (Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds Deep Mercy, page 110)

We look around and witness devastation, we feel God’s arrows pointing at our necks, but we know he is full of mercy. We know—from our own experiences walking with him and from countless episodes in the Bible—that God’s steadfast love never ceases. He is so, so faithful—great is his faithfulness!

How wonderful: God’s mercies are new every morning! This doesn’t mean that his mercies are different from one day to the next. Rather, his mercies are fresh every time the sun rises.

Right now is a good time to plan how you will call to mind what is needed. We store and practice and prepare now for the desperate times later. Reading and memorizing the Bible are more than appropriate disciplines here, but so is something like gathering stories of God’s faithfulness from your own life and the lives of others. Ask your friends to remind you how faithful and loving God is. Christian biographies can also be a good source of stories about God’s faithfulness.

Seeking the Lord in Hope

The first half of Lamentations 3 ends with instruction on how to seek the Lord in hope. The punch line here may not be what you’d like to see, but it is anchored in God’s character.

The author tells us, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). Among other things, this means that seeking the Lord may involve more than waiting, but it does not involve less. As much as it grates against our human impulses, we must wait on the Lord. This is a good practice for God’s people to learn even from their youth (verse 27).

Why can we wait? Why can we rebuke our flesh when it insists that things must happen right now? Soak in the beautiful answer found in Lam 3:31-33. God may cause grief to his people, but that is not what makes his heart beat (verse 33). He “will not cast off forever” (verse 31); “he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (verse 32).

With the author of Lamentations, we must return to the theme of God’s steadfast love. His steadfast love is the grounds for our hope; his Son Jesus has secured our hope.

While the author of Lamentations felt the judgment of God personally for his transgressions, Jesus felt the judgment of God personally for our transgressions. Jesus suffered, cried out, and waited on the Lord—all for us. He hoped that God would raise him from the dead to new life. And that same new life awaits those who follow this same suffering, steadfast, risen king. This is the real hope everyone needs.

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