In 1655, after two centuries of persecution, the Catholic church massacred a small Christian community, the Waldensians of the Piedmont. Of the persecution, The Creeds of Christendom states, “For no other crime but their simple, time-honored faith, the Waldenses in Piedmont were betrayed, outraged, mutilated, massacred, driven into exile, and utterly impoverished by the confiscation of their property and the burning of their villages.”
When all was said and done, the inquisitors had violently executed over two thousand innocent believers. Women were raped while their husbands were forced to watch. Mothers were violently thrown down the alpine mountains along with their babies. Bloody tortures marred both the dead and living. John Milton wrote the following poem about the massacre:
“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones;
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.”
Doubts about God’s sovereignty and affection can arise when we experience a fraction of this sort of evil. God says He is all-powerful. God says He is love itself. Yet God allows sin, pain, and death. How is the Christian supposed to respond to such a paradox?
In light of these seeming paradoxes in God’s Person and the problematic situations He allows, God’s people cry in pain and confusion while still believing Him to be faithful to His promises. More specifically, God’s people lament, not only because they doubt, but because they trust in God and seek to reconcile their faith with the Person God says He is.
Christian lament is the righteous prayer of a believer who has decided to trust his God yet cannot mentally or emotionally reconcile sin, suffering, and death with God’s sovereignty and goodness.
Alongside the desperate father, believers cry out, “I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)” Through lament and suffering, God shows Himself trustworthy, even when many questions of theodicy remain unanswered by human logic.
In the following articles, my goal is not to provide an answer to the age-old question, “Why does God allow evil?” Though I’m sure I will touch on the topic, that isn’t my focus. Others with far more ability than I have provided answers to this topic throughout Jewish and Christian history (My personal favorite is The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis).
My goal isn’t to provide readers with the general Christian response to pain. I admit that such a response includes more than lament. The believer should rejoice in the Lord “alway,” praise God in his suffering, meditate on God’s promises, and more—all of which has been excessively written about and studied. My focus is specific to only one response in suffering: lament. For too long, lament has been deemphasized and sometimes neglected in a modern Christian culture that values counterfeit smiles over authentic tears.
Righteous Lament should be normal because it is normal in the Bible.
The amount of lamenting in the Bible is overwhelming. God authored whole books on the subject. A third of the Psalms are lament prayers or songs. Job, believed by some to be the earliest book in the Bible, describes a confused man trying to reconcile God’s promises with his circumstances.
Interestingly, God doesn’t rebuke Job for his bold lament. First, God honors Job’s lament by answering him. Job’s mindset is correctly changed. Secondly, God in his anger towards Job’s friends validates Job’s words. To emphasize the point, He says it twice:
“My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” –Job 42:7–8
Besides Job, many Biblical heroes lamented to God:
- Moses lamented in Exodus 5:22-23, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” And God answered him (Exodus 6).
- Naomi lamented before God (Ruth 1:20-21), a practice that would have seemed dangerous to Ruth who only knew of cruel or uncaring gods (A beautiful article on Naomi’s lament). God not only answered Naomi’s cries by continuing her dead son’s family line—He also gave her a grandson that would father kings and, ultimately, the King of kings.
- David, the great king, lamented. Examples are too numerous to list here. The greatest King echoed one of David’s lamentations centuries later, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)”
- Elijah lamented in 1 Kings 19. Following his desperate weeping, God revealed Himself and His plan to Elijah. God answered Elijah when Elijah cried out to Him.
- Asaph, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Habakkuk, Nehemiah, Paul, the martyrs in Revelation, and so many more righteously lamented before God.
- And finally, God laments (Genesis 6:6; Jeremiah 12:20-21), and God the Son laments (Matthew 23:37-39; Matthew 27:46; Mark 14:36; John 11:35).
In the following few articles, my goal is to shine a light on this dark, mysterious song. I long to normalize it. I long to help believers make it a common practice both in their personal lives and in the corporate body of the local church.
Biblical lament exalts God. It shows our dependence on Him. Why would you question a God who can’t answer you? Why would you weep to a God who doesn’t care for you? Lament is worship because dependence is worship. The lamenter pleads with the only Person who has the power to destroy evil (Revelation 5).
Biblical lament is faith. The doubt expressed in lament does not contradict faith. Lamenting can be grueling, but it also brings healing. Like the little golden flower in Hinds Feet on High Places, lament grows through the driest desert, bringing “Acceptance and Joy,” and displays God’s glory to those around us. It is a spiritual discipline that the modern church desperately needs to reclaim and relearn.
A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop
Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans, Robert Elmer
The Psalms as Christian Lament, Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore
*All Biblical references are in ESV unless otherwise stated.