Therapeutic lamenting

God approves of wholesome lamentation rather than grin-and-bear-it emotional denial based on superficial just-get-over-it advice. The Hebrew scriptures are laced with laments composed in poetry with a special metre, qinah. A biblical lament is a song written in a staccato rhythm; each three-word line is followed by one of two words, in contrast to poetry of regular rhythm. It corresponds to western dirges sung in a mournful minor key or The Dead March played at a very slow tempo for a royal funeral procession.

Jesus, who wept in deep empathy with the grieving sisters of the recently deceased Lazarus, uttered a lamentation over Jerusalem, whose officials would soon expel him to be crucified outside its walls. And even Paul, who could tough it out against all odds, bade us ‘weep with those who weep.’

Wholesome lamentation

But whenever we indulge in lamenting we should do so in a healthy manner. And where better to go for guidance than the book of Lamentations. The English Standard Version likens this group of five poems to a ‘eulogy at a funeral … to mourn … the loss of a nation.’ Memories flourish at funerals – a theme throughout these outbursts of grief.

* We must confess any sins that merited the disaster, but the anguish still must be faced..

(1) Nostalgia, loneliness and loss of celebration [Jerusalem as ‘she’]

[] ‘Jerusalem remembers in the days of her afflictions … all the precious things that were hers from days of old’ (Lamentations 1:7) but, in the midst of her nostalgia she feels that:

[] ‘… the Lord … has not remembered his footstool [on which he would put up his feet at ease] in the day of his anger’ (Lamentations 2:1). And this in turn

[] ‘has made Zion forget festival and Sabbath’ (Lamentations 2:6) – not celebrating God’s joy and rest.

(3) Prayer tinged with doubt for restoration [Jerusalem as ‘we’]

[] ‘Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us’ (Lamentations 5:1) and, assured that ‘… you, O Lord, reign for ever; your throne endures to all generations,’ we can pray: ‘Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old’ (Lamentations 5:19, 21), though still with deep sobs:

[] ‘Why do you forget us forever; why do you forsake us for so many days?’ (Lamentations 5:20).

(2) Recall of God’s faithfulness while totally grief-stricken [Jerusalem as ‘me’]

The turning point occurs virtually at the midpoint of the book – Lamentations 3:16-24.

[] ‘I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished, so has my hope from the Lord”’ (Lamentations 3:17-18) – I give up, it’s hopeless! But, like Job and Jonah, I still can’t help but gasp a prayer in my agony:

[] ‘Remember my affliction’ (Lamentations 3:19) …

[] ‘My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me’ (Lamentations 3:20). But …’

[] ‘… this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.’  I’ve recovered my assurance: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in him”’ (Lamentations 3:21-24). I will enjoy the Lord, not in one immense intake of inspiration, but portion by fresh daily portion.

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