Study of Lamentations

In faith, we undergo many twists and turns that take us areas where we are high and low, and Jeremiah reminds us that even when life is hard, and we encounter experiences that are full of turmoil, we must remember that our relationship with God must endure, because God desires all of our lives to be filled with worship. The whole of our human experience is not just joy or sorrow, but it incorporates joy, sorrow, and everything in between, and God desires all of it to be given to the Almighty Creator. Lamentations is worship, and as you study Lamentations keep in mind that worship does not always have to be joy-filled, and sometimes your worship will be a lament.

Worship must be authentic. We see examples of authentic worship in the Psalms, when the Psalmists get angry at God for the times when God feels distant, times when the result of sin leads us into hard life circumstances, times when life seems to be unfair, and times when everything falls apart. Job laments at how life has destroyed much of his life. Have you lost a loved one? Has life handed you a set of circumstances that seem too hard to handle? Are you sad, mad, or frustrated by your circumstance of life? God wants you to give your honest and open feelings in worship. You do not need to sugar coat anything or even give God the G-Rated version of your request, because God can handle whatever you are ready to cast in His direction. Once you let go of the need to worship PERFECTLY, you are ready to give God your true, full, complete self.

It is authentic to worship God in your lament. Please allow yourself the freedom in this study to let out those feelings that hide in the darkness: doubts, anger, wicked thoughts, envy, nastiness, and anything that is sinful. God wants you to let these out, so that they can be addressed and dealt with. This is not equating a lament with sin, but rather it is a part of being human and God created us with the ability to experience both the highs and lows in life and Lamentations provides us an example of what it means to lament the circumstance.

WHAT?

Lamentations is set just after Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians in 586 bc. The book is composed of five poems that mourn the catastrophe. In Lamentations, the poet grieves, yet still has faith—crying out to God for mercy.

The book of Lamentations confirms that the world, sadly, is full of suffering due to sin’s presence. The full effect of sin, and thus suffering, is held back only by God’s intercession. When God removes His hand of protection from Jerusalem, after years of waiting for the people to turn to Him, the city falls. And in its destruction is a glimpse of what it is like to live without God’s protection.

Lamentations does not explain away tragedy; it confronts it. Lamentations portrays the raw experience of humanity by expressing loss with full force and then mourning it. The pain is so vivid and fresh that the book ends in devastation. For those who had experienced the invasion of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, a hopeful future was nowhere on the horizon.

Lamentations show the need for all people to turn to Yahweh; He is our hope. This is the only sort of resolution that Lamentations offers. The book’s final verse can be translated as a question: “Have you abandoned us, and are you angry with us beyond measure?” There is no answer, but the poet still expects to hear from God someday. In times of suffering and despair, we wait upon Yahweh—even when the way forward is unclear.

WHO?

These are the Lamentations of Jeremiah for Israel. This is the same Prophet that warned the people of the need to turn back to God, and this lament occurs after the people refused to repent and turn around from their sin.

The laments are not a Prophet sitting back in judgement watching the city burn, but rather Jeremiah looks at the destruction happening and is brought down and saddened by the effect of the sin in the world. These result in not only understanding the might and power of God, but also recognizing the great mercy present with God.

PURPOSE

The book of Lamentations confirms that the world, sadly, is full of suffering due to sin’s presence. The full effect of sin, and thus suffering, is held back only by God’s intercession. When God removes His hand of protection from Jerusalem, after years of waiting for the people to turn to Him, the city falls. And in its destruction is a glimpse of what it is like to live without God’s protection.

Lamentations does not explain away tragedy; it confronts it. Lamentations portrays the raw experience of humanity by expressing loss with full force and then mourning it. The pain is so vivid and fresh that the book ends in devastation. For those who had experienced the invasion of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, a hopeful future was nowhere on the horizon.

Lamentations shows the need for all people to turn to Yahweh; He is our hope. This is the only sort of resolution that Lamentations offers. The book’s final verse can be translated as a question: “Have you abandoned us, and are you angry with us beyond measure?” There is no answer, but the poet still expects to hear from God someday. In times of suffering and despair, we wait upon Yahweh—even when the way forward is unclear.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

As we begin to enter into the study of a book of laments, how have you traditionally looked at lamenting? Why?

Why do many look at lamenting as a bad part of our faith?

How can you integrate lamenting into your faith journey today? Try and write a lament and put it in the comments section or e-mail it to me at jrmitch85@gmail.com.

I would encourage you to read through the laments in Lamentations and look at how they are stylistically, how they address the situation, and how they address God, before we move forward into the specific study of each lament.