In an age when we have a thousand amusements at our fingertips, who wants to think about sad things? Why should we make the investment to read and study a book that seems to move us to melancholy from the first word? What does this ancient book offer our modern lives? Here are three reasons you should read the book of Lamentations:
1. You have reasons to lament
The author of Lamentations describes the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in vivid detail. He writes five poems which are “an encyclopedia of suffering.”1 The hopes of the nation of Judah were dashed as not only their city but especially their temple was mocked, invaded by foreigners, and destroyed. The very place they met with their God was turned into rubble as they watched thousands die of starvation in a months-long siege.
You may not be living in a besieged city, but you’re living in the devastating effects of sin and the resulting distortion of God’s created order. Broken relationships and disconnection, autoimmune diseases, kids who are making choices we don’t want for them, loneliness, job dissatisfaction, and a never-ending pandemic—all of these and a thousand more circumstances are occasions for lament, the passionate expression of grief or sorrow. This is not the way the world was supposed to be. Humans were made for perfect, intimate relationships with both God and one another. We were meant to experience joy, fulfillment, and contentment in all realms. While those remain, they have been perverted and twisted, and are always experienced as a mixture of darkness and light.
2. Lament fills the gap
As believers we hold to certain truths about God: He is sovereign, powerful, good, merciful, and faithful. We rely on him to be our refuge from evil. But what happens when he allows or even seems to cause such things? What do we do when the one who is our strong ally becomes our enemy? Our response is often to turn away in confusion or anger, convinced God is no longer for us. We feel a gap between our knowledge of God’s love and our present circumstances. Lament fits in that gap.
God’s inclusion of Lamentations in the Bible invites us to articulate our pain, offer him our communal complaints, and boldly lament the destruction in our lives. Instead of running away in fear or despondency, the poems in the book of Lamentations teach us how to cry out to God in our despair. They also show us how to “call to mind” what we know is true— God’s mercy is real and constant, and we therefore have hope, just as the people of Judah did (Lam. 3:21).
Instead of numbing our pain by scrolling, drinking, shopping, or working, lament helps us to find our way back to dependency on the God who knows our pain and controls our circumstances. Lament engages our hearts and enables us to engage our God as well. It allows us to bring our anger, disillusionment, sadness, and panic to the one who can do something about them.
3. We have the same God
We who read Lamentations today worship the same God as those who mourned the destruction of their city, Jerusalem. We’re the spiritual descendants of the refugees who were exiled and returned to the city. We’re the holy great-grandchildren of those who came back to humbly rebuild their city and be restored to their God. The church today is proof that God never gave up on his people, but in fact would do an even greater work of mercy in the future as he poured out his full cup of wrath onto his own Son, Jesus.
Lamentations is a book of lament, prayer, and grief. It’s a memorial to the loss of Jerusalem and a warning of the terrible results of sin. It offers help to God’s people as they make their way through a world that has been wrecked, proposing a model of how to express our pain to God in all its ugliness. It teaches us that we’re not only allowed and encouraged to lament when others’ sin damages us, but even when our own sin brings pain into our lives. Lamentations reminds us that God is good when our circumstances suggest he is not.
1 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Message of Lamentations, The Bible Speaks Today Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 29.