When my great-grandfather passed away during my sixth grade year, I cried quietly in the car-ride home. During recess, in an eruption of emotion, I sprinted to the bathroom to cry in isolation. My instinct to quiet or hide my sadness is not rare but a shared experienced by many. How are we supposed to respond to great trials and suffering?
We live in a day where “Celebrations of Life” replace funerals, worship is void of lament and grief, and the commercialization of graves removes the weekly reminders of death’s sting from churchyards. When a person suffers loss, sincere Christians unknowingly offer inflammatory platitudes. Rather than grieving, we discourage long-term grief. Rather than appealing to God’s goodness and sovereignty in intercessory prayer ripe with protest, we encourage stoic surrender to God’s sovereignty.
Consequently, we leave the sufferer in isolation with a piece of their identity ripped from their heart.
A Biblical Example of Suffering
We need a Biblical, Christ-centered understanding on faithfully responding to loss. And, through the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah provides us one example.
Jeremiah’s lament is a far-cry from the above-described dry-eyed stoicism. Jeremiah endured the crushing experience of God giving up Israel in judgement. As a sinner, he is in no place to question God. Yet, he wrestles with God in prayer, appealing to his goodness. As the recipient of God’s covenantal faithfulness, steadfast love, and never-ending mercy, he finds hope. When God seemed distant, Jeremiah appeals to God to draw closer. Jeremiah exhibits three virtues in his lament that all Christians should strive for: honesty, reverence, and hope.
Honesty: Enter Into Reality
God created all humans for eternal bliss and peace in his joy-instilling presence. Oftentimes, our longing for this peace and our circumstances contradict each other. As a result, we become confused and frustrated.
Jeremiah understood this tension. God made a covenant with Israel and crushed them. In his agony, Jeremiah felt blocked from the light by an inescapable darkness. God’s wrath upon Israel wasted away his flesh and skin. It broke his bones. Bitterness besieged and enveloped his tattered soul. Bereft of peace and unable to recall happiness, Jeremiah called out to God:
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! (Lamentations 3:19).
Understanding how reality contradicts our longings and how God plans to restore reality to our longings, we need to approach him in prayer (Matthew 6:10). The author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus, pleaded with our heavenly father to take away the cup of suffering. But, he submitted himself to our father’s will. We can do the same.
Reverence: Recognize Your Place
Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults. (Lamentations 3:28-30)
Jeremiah did not impatiently and loudly demand justification from God. He patiently and quietly waited for God’s way of salvation. Despite feeling like he was in a state of darkness without any light, Jeremiah exhorts the sufferer, meaning himself and us, to “sit alone in silence.” Even says to “put his mouth in the dust,” presumably to keep from speaking ill. In response to his countrymen’s mockery and scoffing, he does not call himself a victim and appeal to his rights, but exhorts himself to “give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.”
How should we respond to this passage? First, we must acknowledge that our suffering is the natural result of sin. God made a covenant of life with Adam upon condition of perfect obedience to one meager command: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He disobeyed. Because we are his descendants, we sinned in him and fell with him. Because of the fall, creation was cursed.
Second, we must see suffering as a part of God’s plan for our good. Since we are his children, God allows our suffering for our good (Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4). 1 Peter reveals part of this good to us, for, in our suffering, we join Christ’s sufferings and are being conformed into his image (1 Peter 2:21).
In your trial, remember your place as creature and God’s place as Creator. Don’t do this to artificially minimize the hurt of your suffering, but to understand your trial as a consequence of the fall and to see that God will work this current pain for future joy.
Hope: Remember God’s Steadfast Love
For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31-33)
God despises the tension between his good natural-order and the fallen perverted-order which causes us to groan. He loved us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, to live and die for us. Jesus descended into the messiness of fallen humanity and suffered immense loss which reached its apex on the cross. His father, whom he had lived in perfect love with for all of eternity, turned his back on him, rejecting him. God the Father could not look on his Son for all the sin placed on him. Jesus took on his crushing wrath. Eventually, he gasped his last breath.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled Jeremiah’s lament. Jesus took on the full extent of Jeremiah’s sin and pain. And not only Jeremiah’s, but yours and mine too.
Yet, Jesus was not overcome by the sting of death. On the third day, he rose from his grave in glory. Having defeated death, Jesus rose to our father’s right hand to rule heaven and earth. One day, he will return. And on that day, he will vindicate every wrong and heal every wound. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. The pain and death we experience in this life will be no more. Jesus will transform our sorrowful crying into joyful adulation. On this day, Jesus will satisfy our deepest longings for peace:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)