The freedom to lament

I began writing this as a reply to John’s comment on my introduction to Lamentations, but I think I would like to move the discussion up to the level of a post. In so doing I hope that some of you who have counseled those in grief or gone through your own grieving and struggling will be willing to share how it is you (and perhaps have not) been able to be honest with God.

John’s comment:

We studied Lamentations on five consecutive Wednesday nights a while back. A passage I find especially moving is 1.12 – ‘any sorrow like my sorrow.’ I have used it at funerals to comfort a grieving family who may feel that no one else can possibly understand their personal grief.

There are a number of such passages in Lamentations and I am glad to know that you are able to provide comfort through the words. This is part of the reason I still work on Lamentations, because I believe we have largely lost the ability and understanding of lamenting in western Christianity. It is important that people know that it is ok to grieve, to cry out, and even to be angry with God. He is a big God and he can take it. Most of all, I believe God wants us to be honest with him, to completely open up our hearts and minds, no holding back; open up the fire hose and let it flow, fierce and angry.

John’s reference to funerals reminds me of what I consider to be one of the most poignant passages in all of Scripture. Every time I teach 2 Samuel and I come to the Bathsheba episode I always pause and comment about David’s response to their son’s death. The scene is incredibly powerful. David has accepted his guilt and asked for God’s forgiveness for his sins of taking Bathsheba and killing Uriah. But Nathan declares that the son shall die. David mourned for the child, even as he was still alive, David lay by his bed and fasted. The child died.

2Sam. 12.20   Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the LORD, and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate.  21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.”  22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me, and the child may live.’  23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

As a parent, how can one read this and not be overcome with emotion? There are deep and penetrating truths in the episode. While we live, and while those around us live, we must pray to God to save. He is a gracious God who saves. Eventually, however, that time will arrive and in our grieving for our loss we may be assured that we will go to them. In this world we must break our fast, as hard as it may be, and it may be some time before we are able, but we must break our fast and continue to live and love in this world.

So far I have not officiated at a funeral. I have no idea what I would actually say in such a circumstance. I have of course been to several, but usually as a member of the grieving family. But I will keep these words and therefore I will have hope…

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