The book of Lamentations is one I have not studied before. Though I have been raised in the Christian church, I have never heard a sermon on the book of Lamentations in my 25+ years of church attendance. I have never read a book on it. I have scarcely read the book itself.
Lamentations is not a popular book in the canon (the whole of God’s Word) and for good reason. The same impulse that makes us want to avoid a suffering member in our local body – the person who seems to experience loss after loss – is the same impulse that makes us flip our Bibles from Jeremiah to Ezekiel. The book has a heaviness to it. Though the Psalms are filled with a wide array of poetic expression, the book of Lamentations is squarely a dirge of lament. It is sung in a minor key, and it is sung in a community of the grieving.
The digital study I lead is about to dive into the book of Lamentations. And, counter to what we might expect or hope, this book of lament does not offer us a five-step plan for our sorrow or a practical guide to overcoming loss. As convenient as it would be, we won’t find inside these pages a plan for suffering or a theology for pain.
Instead, this book offers us a home for our sorrow and a school for compassion. It is a book that opens the front door and leads us into the living room. Without saying a word, it hands us the box of tissues and tells us we can stay as long as we want. It grieves beside us and it grieves with us. It holds our hand and, without speaking directly to our own situation, lets us listen as it speaks to the God of the universe. It may not give us words for our own lament and pain, but the book of Lamentations offers us a safe space for our suffering and invites us to sit and stay awhile.
We will notice two things over the next ten weeks of our study in the book of Lamentations: first, we will painfully note that sin has consequences. Often when we in the Church speak about sin and its consequences, we mean to implicate a single individual, a solitary sin, and a specific set of resulting consequences. And, while this can also true, it’s a primitive portrayal of our reality. The greater reality is this: the original sin that runs through our veins, the sinfulness that courses through creation, bears death in every darkened corner we can name. At the fall our relationship with God broke. Our relationship to creation broke. Our relationships with each other broke. The sin that we were promised would lead to death has become the trademark of our race, leaving pain and suffering in its wake. Sin – not only my isolated actions or yours, but the brokenness of a fallen world – has consequences.
The second thing we will notice is that for five chapters the poet in the book of Lamentations will mourn and sing and speak to God. And God does not respond. At first blush, I thought this might indicate the loneliness of grief or the longing that accompanies repentance. But after looking more deeply at the text and consulting several noteworthy scholars on the topic, I’ve grown in my understanding: God does not speak perhaps because if He did it would overshadow everything that being said by the grieving in the book. The grief of the poet would be passed by quickly in our human impulse to reach the happy ending, the Divine “answer” for sorrow. If God spoke, His voice would boom so loudly that we would forget the reality and depth of the poet’s pain. In His Divine act of silence in the book of Lamentations, God is not indicating that He is absent in suffering. but that He makes room for it.
The next ten weeks are not going to be cheery, but they will be fruitful.
PS – If you’re interested in joining this study of Lamentations, you can sign up here.