By David Faust
Our youth minister purchased a new Bible for every high school senior in our youth group. Before giving the Bibles as graduation gifts, he asked several friends to highlight favorite verses and write encouraging Post-it notes to stick inside the Bibles. I noticed that the dark, sad book of Lamentations didn’t get a lot of Post-it notes! Most of us prefer celebrations over lamentations.
And yet, “Jeremiah composed laments” (2 Chronicles 35:25)—sad songs grieving the death of King Josiah, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the sin that led to the city’s downfall. The book of Lamentations is an acrostic poem where the verses begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Jeremiah wept “from A to Z,” comparing the fallen city of Jerusalem to a grieving widow whose “eyes overflow with tears” (Lamentations 1:1-2, 16).
Hebrew poetry includes both praise and lament. Praise celebrates what God has done. Lament cries out to God in the midst of pain. Both sides of that equation are important. We’re meant to lament. If we skip too quickly to the happy side of things, we miss the lessons we can learn from grief. Before we celebrate Easter, it’s healthy to lament on Good Friday. If we’re open to its instruction, sorrow has a lot to teach us.
Different Kinds of Grief
Sadness comes in different forms. Brief grief hurts for a while, but as time passes we eventually get over it. Extended grief lasts a long time as we deal with the death of a loved one or recover from a devastating loss of money, health, a job, or a relationship. Someone has said, “Sadness is the soul’s way of saying ‘this mattered.’” C. S. Lewis wrote, “The greater the love, the greater the grief, and the stronger the faith the more savagely will Satan storm its fortress.”
Have you experienced the sorrow of repentance? “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Individual grief comes from repenting over our own personal sin, and group grief comes when a family, congregation, or even a nation goes through sorrow together. When Jonah preached, the whole city of Nineveh repented, including the king. The 9/11 terror attacks made the whole world grieve.
And let’s not forget about God’s grief. Jesus the Messiah was acquainted with grief.
He knows how it feels to have a broken heart. He sympathizes with our sorrow.
Grief is good when it pulls people together. In sports, adversity can make individual athletes play better as a team. Trust and cooperation can grow deeper when family members and coworkers face difficulties together and learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice [and] weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, English Standard Version).
Grief is good when it draws us toward God. Grief can make us bitter, or it can make us better. Pushing God away doesn’t relieve grief. “Your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” (Lamentations 2:13). Only God can.
The trailer of a movie shows just enough highlights to pique our interest. To get the whole story, we need to watch the whole movie. In life, we see short glimpses. Only God sees the whole picture. Whatever grief you are facing, the Bible extends this gracious invitation: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Personal Challenge: What makes you sad? What emotional wounds are breaking your heart? In prayer, tell the Lord about your sorrow and ask him to heal your wounds.
Optional Challenge: Do you know someone who is dealing with grief? Write them a note, take them out for lunch or coffee, or find some other practical way to encourage them and show you care.