By Elizabeth Prata
“I am always on the hunt for podcast right now that talks about lament what does it look like to lament biblically? I am learning as I go through this grieving process.”
I received that message from a listener to The End Time Blog podcast. I am on various social media and as I scroll I inevitably see pain, grief, sorrow, anger, confusion, and fear. People are hurting right now. People are dealing with miscarriages, child death, parent dementia, accidents, tragedies, and dread diagnoses. The person above reached out asking about how to express grief in ways that would be honoring to God. What a great question.
We say things like “Oh no that’s lamentable” without really knowing what lament is. We see biblical characters putting ashes on their head and wearing sackcloth and think, “Gee, that’s kind of a weird way to grieve”. Sometimes we’re just embarrassed or struck silent at the outpouring of another’s grief and we stiffen up, or edge away.
How DO we express our grief? We know there is a right way to worship Him, is there a right way to lament? Is complaining acceptable, or not? Can we be angry at the things coming upon us? We are so tired of our own sin, and definitely tired of the waves of the world’s sin washing up on us. There’s nothing we can do about our own and others’ sin as long as we are in this flesh, except strive toward the prize, mourn, and strive some more. How do we keep depression, anger, or bitterness away?
It’s a big topic but I am going to tackle lamenting as best I can, in hopes that it will both honor Jesus, and help women who might be going through unimaginable pain. It will be probably 3 parts: what biblical figures did wrong in their grief, what biblical figures did right in their grief, and what lamenting is.
What not to do
God is orderly. He has a right way to do things and a wrong way. He demands worship, as well He should, but in proper, certain ways. He also expects self-control on our emotions. For example, we know we can be angry, but not sinfully angry (Ephesians 4:26). We know we can demand justice (Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 1:17) but only if our motivation is for God’s glory and not our own personal vengeance (Romans 12:19).
Since the first sin that caused the fall of humans and the entire creation to become cursed, which groans even now for redemption, sinful actions flowing out from the first action have caused grief.
Immediately after the Fall, we see all the sins begin to rear their head; lying, blame, guilt, jealousy, rebellion, and murder. Cain did not fear God. He argued with God and was irreverent with Him. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Soon after, he killed his brother.
A scene which is not in the Bible but probably happened, was depicted in the painting called The First Mourning (Adam and Eve mourn the death of Abel); oil on canvas 1888 by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Here it is:
When they discovered the body of their son lying lifeless on the ground, they must have mourned. They knew what death was, since God had killed an animal and given them its skins to wear for clothing. They must have killed animals in order to eat, since having been thrown out of the Garden. Abel was a keeper of sheep. Their death was graciously staved off, but their son! O, their son! Their original sin comes back to haunt them in an intimately devastating way.
We have been grieving ever since.
Grief and deep grief of lament, is laced throughout the Bible. Some of the causes for it are largely unimaginable for us westerners in this day and age. Not only in personally intimate scenes like the one with Abel’s death, but widespread. The Pharaoh who demanded the death of all the firstborn sons, what a horrible grief for all the mothers! And again in Ramah, when Herod ordered all boys under the age of two killed, known as the Massacre of the Innocents. I can’t imagine killing babies, and the wails of the mothers!
This is what the LORD says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamenting and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15.
How does one deal with that kind of grief? I’ve mourned in my life. The emotion swelled up into a ball in my spirit so massive it could not emerge from my throat constricted with tears. But it must emerge. Stoic suppression of such grief ruins a mind and a heart, poisons it. Constant petty venting of such grief allows for anger and bitterness to slide in. Wallowing in it caused depression. Let’s look at three biblical people who did this.
One example of a way not to deal with grief and anger might be Naomi, who was bitter.
But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Naomi, hardened by life, grief, and want, was not only bitter, but she blamed God in her grief. This is not the way.
Naomi could not bear the contradiction between the name she bore, and the person she was. Ten years in Moab with all its anguish, and also the loss of fellowship with God and His people had dried up her finer feelings. Once so sweet, Naomi was now sour, and blamed God for the poverty and desolation she had endured. But why chide God? Was not her cup of bitterness the result of the act of disobedience when, with her husband, she left Bethlehem for Moab? Had she stayed in her own land and maintained her trust in God, in spite of the famine, He would have undertaken for her and her family and brought them through. But the journey to Moab was a journey from God, and consequently her bitterness was the fruit of such an act of disobedience. Source- The Woman Who Tasted the Cup of Bitterness, from Lockyer’s All the Named Women of the Bible
We know the story of Job. Satan demanded to show God that prosperous Job would cave in and blame God if He removed the hedge of protection around Job and suddenly Job was not prosperous anymore. Job never caved. But Mrs. Job did.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold firm your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Mrs. Job had had enough. Remember, Mrs. Job had lost all her ten children, too. She was grieving. But her grief turned to anger against God and against her husband. Ladies, this should not be.
Improper grief can lead not only to anger or bitterness, but also depression. When Jacob was told that his son Joseph had ‘died’ (he was really put into a pit then sold as a slave so the death report was a lie).
So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:34-35).
Jacob sunk into a depression that only looked downward into Sheol (the grave) instead of up to God. He outwardly mourned in the way his customs dictated, with sackcloth and ashes. But his inner spirit was broken and he refused to be comforted. He had 11 other sons, but they did not matter to him as much as the favorite Joseph. Jacob never really recovered … until many years later the brothers returned from Egypt and told their father that Joseph was alive. THEN his spirit revived. (Genesis 45:26-27). Wrongly expressed grief can turn to depression.
All three did exactly the wrong thing: they focused on their circumstances, and for a long time too. They nursed the circumstances. They did not look to God.
Grief is perfectly fine as an emotion. Jesus was the Man of Sorrows. He wept for Lazarus. He wept for Jerusalem. But grief wrongly expressed can dishonor God, as Naomi, Jacob, and Mrs. Job did.
Grief Expressed outwardly
The Bible has plenty of scenes where people mourned a death and expressed that outwardly in their custom. Covered heads, sackcloth, torn clothes, ashes, loud cries, and weeping are main expressions of deep grief. Sometimes they refrained from washing or stripped their jeweled adornments off. They may have sat barefoot on the ground with hands on their head, as Job did and his friends with him. Sometimes hired mourners were brought in who cried and wailed. But that was then, it is not our custom now.
And what of the inward expression? How do we deal with such massive grief in a God-honoring way? How do we let it out and not let it turn to bitterness or anger or depression? The difference between grief and lamentation is that lamentation is the voice of grief, and it is a process of grieving. Grief you feel. Lamenting you do.
We will see tomorrow some biblical figures who lamented and did not dishonor God in their grief.