The definition of lament, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is; ‘A passionate expression of grief or sorrow.’
The following exploration, to define lament for us today, is written by Aubrey Sampson, author of the powerful book, The Louder Song, Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament.
For those of us who follow Jesus, we live with down payments on the “Already” of God’s Kingdom on earth. We see glimpses of God’s healing power, his love, and his victory over evil. But we also live in the “Not Yet” of a broken, sinful world.
It is in between the Already and the Not Yet where we wait expectantly for the return of Jesus, who will one day make all things right, whole, and complete. Thankfully, we experience glimpses of gospel hope every time we see bits and pieces of God’s reign and presence and power at work. But that final redemption—God’s Kingdom arriving in full, all brokenness redeemed, all evil thwarted, all suffering ended—is our ultimate hope.
Lament, meaning a crying out of the soul, creates a pathway between the Already and the Not Yet. Lament minds the gap between current hopelessness and coming hope. Lament anticipates new creation but also acknowledges the painful reality of now. Lament helps us hold onto God’s goodness while battling evil’s evil at the same time.
Lament is an overlooked genre of prayer found all throughout Scripture. There are actually more lament songs than praise songs in the Bible. The Psalms alone contain more than sixty-five laments, including laments for fallen warriors, laments for illnesses, laments for victims of suffering, laments for the dead, and more. There are laments of vengeance, protest, repentance, loss, and even depression. Beyond the Psalms, the Scriptures also include words from famous lamenters like Hannah, Moses, Job, Tamar, Jeremiah, and of course, Jesus. God gives us the laments of those who have gone before us as a way to talk honestly with him, as a way to enter into the biblical story, as a way to connect with the suffering people of God, and as a tool for thrusting our anger and our mysteries and our losses at him.
Even though laments fill the pages of our Bibles, for most Western evangelicals and post-evangelicals, lament-prayers remain unfamiliar, mostly absent from our church calendars, conferences, and small-group curriculums. But lament is actually a godly concept, a spiritual discipline, and a powerful handhold in our seasons of sorrow. God has given us the biblical language and practice of lament as a way to express our pain and survive our suffering.
When the days are hard—when grief weighs as much as gravity, when we can’t live any minute longer with the pain, when we’re angrier or more disillusioned than we ever thought possible, when we can’t find the right words for our difficult emotions, when our gnawing questions become too much to handle—my prayer is that God’s Spirit will draw us back, time and time again, to lament, and ultimately into his presence.
And this is how, somehow, even in our darkest, most grievous laments, there’s hope—because we don’t lament to a void. We lament to the God who wants our laments. As we lament, we join in the chorus of those who have gone before us—those who have wrestled with suffering’s reality and come out, not unscathed, but still proclaiming God’s goodness.
Lament can lead us back to a place of hope—not because lamenting does anything magical, but because God sings a louder song than suffering ever could, a song of resurrection, renewal, restoration, and re-creation.
We don’t have to fear expressing the whole gamut of emotions to God, because that is part of a committed relationship with him. Even if we turn our prayers against him, even if we angrily blame him, even if we run and scream wildly, God remains near, patiently inviting us deeper into his presence. When Christians lament, we do so to a God who lets us. Our cries—even our cries of doubt and despair—fall on his loving, listening ears.
What’s remarkable about Christianity is that we have a King who is also a steadfast, loving Husband and Friend. He not only permits lament; he gives us the language of lament. We have a God who desires and deserves our wholehearted praise. But he is also a God who wants an authentic, meaningful, intimate love relationship with us. We have a groom who gives his bride a voice.
Even if our lament is impolite, raw, or bitter, even if we express sorrow or verbalize anger, even if we make demands, as we lament, we actually preach to the world (and to ourselves) that it is possible to have a fearless, deeply intimate relationship with God. A God who not only is worthy of our thanksgiving and our joyful worship but also wants every part of us—not just our “pretty” selves, but our sharp edges, our sin struggles, our suffering, and our sadness.
If we never acknowledge our pain to God, we will never truly know what it means to praise him on the other side of suffering. It is in our honest crying out to God about our pain that our worship of God grows more authentic. It is in this kind of relationship, this kind of honesty with God that our walks with him become real. Lament is part of the rhythm of a deepening relationship with him.
Find out more about The Louder Song, Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament, by Aubrey Sampson. In the midst of your darkest times, you will discover that lament leads you back to a place of hope—not because lamenting does anything magical, but because God sings a louder song than suffering ever could, a song of renewal and restoration.19