Lament

Preaching and Worship Resources about Lament

Lament (to God, typically) is faithful protest over sin, sorrow, loss, sickness, death, enemy threats, or any of the other ills humans face, often accompanied by weeping, moaning, wailing, breast-beating, or other signs of anguish.

In Scripture

David laments [David intoned,] "O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul. . . . How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!" (2 Sam. 1:24 - 27).

Bathsheba laments "When [Bathsheba] heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him" (2 Sam. 11:26)

Turn, O Lord "Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord — how long? Turn, O Lord, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love" (Ps. 6:2 - 4).

How long? "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?" (Ps. 13:1 - 2).

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

Hope in God "My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, `Where is your God?' . . . Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God" (Ps. 42:3, 5 - 6).

God will hear "Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice" (Ps. 55:17).

Lamenting oppression "Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me." (Ps. 56:1 - 2).

Lamenting the Lord's anger "Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and wail: `The fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us'" (Jer. 4:8).

Lamenting the consequence of sin "For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. . . . Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, `Alas! alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing" (Amos 5:12, 16).

Lamenting sin "For [the sins of Judah and Israel] I will lament and wail; I will go barefoot and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals, and mourning like the ostriches" (Mic. 1:8).

Jesus laments from the cross "At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, `Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:34).

Women lament Jesus on the cross "A great number of the people followed [Jesus on his way to Calvary], and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him" (Luke 23:27).

Jesus laments at Lazarus's death "When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, `Where have you laid him?' They said to him, `Lord, come and see.' Jesus began to weep" (John 11:33 - 35).

Lament turns to joy "`A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me. . . . Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world'" (John 16:16, 20 - 21).

Lament over Stephen's death "Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him" (Acts 8:2).

Points to Ponder

Sources of lament Lament arises from pain, but it also arises from confusion ("My God, my God, why . . . ?") or from indignation ("I know how many are your transgressions"), or from impatience ("When . . . ?) or from longsuffering now curdling into exasperation ("How long . . . ?).

Psalms Many readers of the Psalms have noticed that laments within them are not rare. They are common and deeply meant. It seems natural to the psalmists to complain to God because, after all, who else is in charge? Whose world is this? Whose kingdom? Who is the source of overflowing love? Who remains the source of overflowing love right through all our lament?

Praise and Lament Accordingly, nearly all of the psalms of lament also include or end with praise. Praise and lament are in tension within psalms and psalmists. The tension is strong and sometimes almost furious. But to psalmists they are both authentic expressions of faith. John Witvliet has observed that "lament and praise are incomplete without the other, lest praise, particularly general or descriptive praise, be misunderstood as smug satisfaction or lament be understood as a denial or refusal of grace."

God of unfailing love The psalms of lament are full of questions because the psalmists believe in a "God of unfailing love" (Ps. 6). Lament makes no sense if God is indifferent or off duty. Lament makes sense only if God is a God of unfailing love.

Faith Unbelief shakes its fist at God or dismisses God or tries to get an invasive God off its back. It's faith that laments. Faith wrestles with God because trouble and enemies and terror are all anomalies in God's world. They don't belong there. In a world in which the King of the universe has unfailing love, these things should not happen.

Not the way things should be But there they are, and so the believer points them out to God and laments them. These terrible things should not be. A young medical student in India should not be gang raped on a public bus and beaten and left for dead. How long, Lord, how long? A man in Webster, NY, should not set his house on fire to lure firefighters into a trap so that he may kill them there. How long, Lord, how long? A gunman should not enter the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, and think in his arrogance that he has the right to destroy the lives of twenty children and six adults and everybody who loved them. How long, Lord, how long?

Jesus laments On the cross, Jesus honored every lamenting psalmist by himself lamenting, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That's Psalm 22, and Jesus took it from his heart and memory and onto his lips.

How long? Anguish from pain, anguish from absorbing the whole world's sin, anguish at experiencing abandonment — Jesus might as well have said, "How long, Lord, how long?" How long? Just long enough till he could say for us sinners, "It is finished."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.