How the Church Laments

“The loving kindnesses of Yahweh indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘Yahweh is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I wait for Him.’”

Lamentations 3:22-24

Jerusalem falls, its walls broken and torn down. The city burns. Men, women, and children cry out in grief and despair as they watch the judgment of God roll down like fire and brimstone, destroying God’s city. After their initial shock, and then the grieving, their cries of agony quiet. This is when the Prophet Jeremiah was inspired by the Spirit to write the Book of Lamentations. And if we have ears to hear, his response still teaches the church today as it did the Israelites.

One side-effect of the internet age is that news – all news – comes to us instantaneously. Every tragedy and atrocity is available every day, demanding our immediate response. And the more visceral the response, the more noticeable. Though terrorist attacks, deaths from natural disasters, and any number of horrific events – reminders of our fallen world – demand our response, we cannot allow reactive emotions to rule. Proper response to tragedy requires more than gut reactions – especially from the church. While it is good to respond to tragedies and atrocities with grief and righteous anger, God’s people must know the difference between remaining in grief and moving to lament.

After anything horrific occurs, my newsfeed is always replete with hastily written, emotionally driven, divisive, condemning, and vilifying rhetoric, holding parties or people complicit in tragedies.

For a right response to this rhetoric, I turn to Scripture. After the rubble that was Jerusalem settled, Jeremiah was tasked with putting to words an entire nation’s sorrow. How could words capture such destruction? We see the proper response not only in the words of Lamentations but also in the very manner in which they were placed. Time, thought, skill, and prayer went into this book. For those who understand the craftmanship needed to write captivating prose and poetry, the following details help us see the depth of this literary masterpiece. 

Lamentations chapters 1, 2, and 4 are acrostic; each verse begins with the subsequent letter in the Hebrew alphabet, which contains 22. Chapter 3 is even more in-depth: the first three verses begin with the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The second three, the second letter. And so on. 

What can we learn when we understand this poetic device? First, lament is not a pure guttural reaction. Though it does include deep emotion and is written from a broken heart, Jeremiah’s mind guided his heart, and his mind was governed by the word of God. It took time and thought to compose these poems. No stanza, no word, was written without care. 

After tragedy comes across our newsfeed, we must take time, thought, and prayer before writing or sharing opinions and responses. A response written moments after will not be written after thinking deeply. Emotions need to be tampered with by thought, the tongue reined in by prayer.

Second, there are highs and lows in our lament. As broken bones take time to heal, so too do broken souls. The most quoted verses from this book are Lamentations 3:22-24:

“The loving kindnesses of Yahweh indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘Yahweh is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I wait for Him.’”

These are beautiful, hope-filled, soul-enriching verses. They are the peak of the mountain of this book, where Jeremiah stands above the guilt and grief and breathes in these precious truths. But the problem with only quoting these verses is that it is only the middle of the lament. Jeremiah, and we, must still walk back down into the valley, and into the muck of pain and sin. These precious truths must saturate our souls as we walk through grief with others and ourselves.  

Lament leaves time to not only air out our grievances, but to put thought and prayer to our grief, to clothe our naked emotions with fitting words that order us to God, and show us how to rightly respond.

Third, when calamities break into our modern world, Christians should stand at the forefront. We are in fact the only ones who truly hold the answer as to why this world is broken. This is where the church, as it has done for more than two millennia, provides a prophetic voice. Christians understand a biblical view of humanity in which everyone had been created in the image of God, later stained with sin through the Fall of Man. The Fall brought with it disconnection and enmity with God, each another, and the entire created order. This rightly explains why so much of human history has been marked by disease, violence, disunity, and death. Societies living at enmity with their Creator cannot hope to flourish. This is why the Christ not only reconciles us to God, but also breaks down the wall of hostility between each other (Ephesians 2:11-20). The two-fold nature of the gospel provides the only way to true and lasting peace with God and man.

This is not a policy directive we can enact. It is the matter of God changing the heart.

Christians must understand that there will never be complete peace on earth while it is inhabited by sinful humans. However, we can work to make it more hospitable while we wait for Christ’s triumphant return, when he will make “all things new.” 

As we know God works all things for his glory and the good of those who love him, we do not grieve as others do. Yes, we still grieve, cry out, and moan in agony. But we don’t remain there. We question ourselves and our emotions, and we turn to God in prayer. We order our chaotic emotions with words, bringing them to God in worship. 

This is lamentation. 

Then we, the church, can respond with sober judgment, striving together for the gospel, which alone completes our lament in the presence of the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, wiping away all our tears by the hands of his grace.

For further reading
Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope by Philip Ryken
Scripture and the English Poetic Imagination by David Jeffrey
Aching Joy: Following God through the Land of Unanswered Prayer by Jason Hague
St. Augustine Confessions - Augustine of Hippo
Joseph L. Hamrick III


Joseph L. Hamrick III is a Reformed Baptist Christian who serves as a deacon at Commerce Community Church (C3) in Commerce, TX, where he and his wife, Jesse, live. Joseph holds a BA in Liberal Studies from the Texas A&M University-Commerce and works for the Herald-Banner in Greenville, TX where he writes about the Christian life in his column entitled “Things to Consider”. When he is not at work, he can usually be found with a Bible, a work of Dostoevsky, or some other book in his hands.

January 15, 2024

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