Nicholas Wolterstorff, reflecting on grief and the death of his son, wrote, “The sharply particular words of Lament, so I have learned, give voice to the pain of many forms of loss. . . . If he was worth loving, he is worth grieving over.”
I couldn’t help but be moved by these words and grieve as I heard the verdict of the case in which the officer who shot Philando Castile was found not guilty on all counts. I couldn’t help but grieve that another young African-American was dead in an oft-familiar and unfortunate case of law enforcement panic. I couldn’t help but grieve as I thought about his loss in the life of his fiancée, daughter, family, and community.
Though far, his death felt near. In some way he represented my brother, my cousin, and my friend. I found myself repeating the words of Wolterstorff that “if he was worth loving”—a fellow image-bearer—“he is worth grieving over.”
As I grieved, I searched for help in navigating this grim reality. I found that help in a seemingly unlikely yet safe refuge: Lamentations 3. Here are three reflections.
1. The reality of a sinful world is a real and painful reality.
As I read through this chapter, I came to realize in a fresh way, the writer dealt with the reality of a sinful world: it was very real and extremely painful. He lived in a reality in which evil and injustice reigned under the judgment of God. He says things like, “he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light” (3:2), “he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation” (3:5), and “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is” (3:17). One of the most striking things he says is, “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me” (3:20).
Much like the context in the author’s day, we live in the same kind of reality which causes our souls to cry out as we think continually on situations like this. Our “How long, O Lord?” turns quickly into a “How often, O Lord, do we have to go through this?”
Broken people. Broken systems. Broken families. Broken hearts. This sinful world is real and it hurts.
2. Maybe we shouldn’t start with the question “What should I do?” but “What should I feel?”
As Christians, many times when situations like these happen, our knee-jerk reaction is to wonder What should I do? As we watch videos and have conversations, we want to find a solution to the problem. I believe this can be a good thing and comes from a concerned placed. Yet, sometimes I think we’re too quickly focused with the first question and not the second.
I’m not saying we should sit back and do nothing. What I’m saying is that sometimes we should pause to reflect on and feel the gravity of this reality. This is what the writer of Lamentations did in devoting the first 20 verses to what he felt.
One friend asked, “Why watch the newly released videos?” I answered, “For proximity and lament.” It’s when my heart is in proximity to the sufferings of others that I’m able to feel the weight of sorrow rightly. It’s when I bring myself near that I’m able to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). And that sometimes is one of the greatest “doings” of love.
3. I must fight to call to mind the reality of the gospel, even when my heart doesn’t feel the hope of the gospel.
Wolterstorff shares that his lament “belongs within my story.” Not only does it belong in his, he wrote, “I struggle indeed to go beyond merely owning my grief toward owning it redemptively.” As I grieved, I wondered, How can I grieve redemptively?
As I watched the videos and heard the verdict, my heart didn’t feel the hope of gospel. I didn’t feel that all things would be made new. I didn’t feel the nearness of God in this situation. All I felt was the numbness of seeing the video of the shooting, his four-year-old daughter consoling her mother, and the constant reminder of the harmful disposition toward fellow image-bearers. You may be in that place.
Yet as I read Lamentations 3, things begin to change: I was seeing how to grieve redemptively. The author of Lamentations writes, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (Lam. 3:21). He dealt with the dual reality of painful lament and redemptive hope. Where his heart didn’t feel hope, he fought to call to mind the reality of God—his love, purposes, and justice. Where there was the pain of living in fallen world and lamenting the struggles of life in it, he could find grace to live redemptively knowing God would one day make things right.
Justice seemingly delayed and denied in the court of earth is never delayed or denied in the court of heaven.
May God grant us grace as the church travel the road of lament: sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.