The Importance of Lament
“What then shall we say to these things?”, to suffering and the gospel? Paul gives three answers in Romans 8. The first two answers are obvious: he gives proof that God loves us (31b-35), and then the future-facing promise of that proven love, that it will never fail (37-39). But in between, in verse 36, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22, which is a complaint to God, that the people of God suffer for His name’s sake, not because of sin - it’s inexplicable. The writer there is lamenting before God. Why quote this verse?
First, Paul is validating all our sufferings - those that come from gospel ministry, and those that seemingly make no sense. Ostracism for being a Christian, and the mid-life cancer. The explicable and the inexplicable.
Suffering causes groaning. In groaning, God gives room for us to be human. God is not ashamed of lament. In Romans 8, Paul is not converting our laments into something more respectable. In the quotation from Psalm 44, Paul validates our suffering, and therefore validates our laments.
For God Himself laments. No one has lamented more deeply than Jesus, who fully felt the Father’s turning away on the cross, and voiced that lament in the form of another question - why have you forsaken me? God shares our suffering, and therefore He is not ashamed of our lament.
But in His sharing of our suffering, He does more than validate. He assures us that our laments have been heard, by a God who is, yet still, infinitely for us. And when we suffer more deeply than words, we know that He still hears, because the Spirit groans and laments for us (8:27).
The gospel does not explain every suffering; much is left unexplained to us. But it does assure us that our laments are heard, by the only One who will fully answer every cry. If suppress lament, we rob ourselves of the deep assurance that only one who has been united to a crucified, resurrected, reigning, and returning King can know and experience. For only from the depths of lament can we see with the eyes of faith that not even this - not even THIS! - “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39). We do not suppress lament in order to experience joy. No, we lament our sufferings, grieving them, so that as we grasp hold of the gospel, its surpassing heights become all the more sweet to us. And joy follows.
More in Pastors' Notes
June 20, 2017Abortion and Grace
June 20, 2017Glory Around a Table
June 8, 2017Characteristics of Faithful, Useful Groups, Over the Long-Term