Learning Lament, Part 3

Last week we talked about how it is possible to express the fullness of our anguish without questioning God’s love and goodness. That being true, suffering will always reveal our need, lack, and/or unbelief that is best responded to with some kind of confession.

Confession of Need in Lament

The first type of confession in lament I want to address is the confession of need. If we are lamenting well we are likely already doing this. When we are brought to grief’s door we are confronted with our human finitude. We find there is so much we can not control and so many ways that we are powerless. True Biblical lament will include the lamenter laying out her grief before the Lord and confessing that she needs God Almighty’s help. In this, we confess that He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, completely perfect God and we are not. This confession will be met with grace in our time of need.

Confession of Unbelief in Lament

It is absolutely possible to express the fullness of your anguish and still be trusting fully in God. Yet in our lamenting, we are zipping open the pocket of our heart and dumping out its contents into our heavenly Father’s gentle hands. With the contents emptied, we may find deeply hued raw diamonds, that key to your last apartment you thought you had lost, a twenty-dollar bill, a handful of change, an old receipt, and a petrified French fry. We will see a mixture of belief and unbelief, faith and distrust, humility and pride, selflessness and selfishness, righteous anger and vengeance - we will find that we are a mixed bag of sinfulness and saintliness. Any unbelief found will not disqualify the validity of our laments, it is simply an opportunity to repent and allow the Lord to grow us in righteousness while purifying our intentions and faith. We can openly sob our laments to God, not worrying if we are doing so in some manner of disbelief but trust that the Holy Spirit will gently guide us. Weep your laments to the Lord fearlessly for He is doing a mighty and complex work. God honors your heartfelt laments and will lead you to holiness.

We are Sufferers, Sinners, and Saints

Because we are saints living and suffering in a fallen world, there will always be a mix of sin, suffering, and saintliness pouring from within us. The suffering must be met with a calling out to God that brings comfort, the saintliness must be followed up with praise to God for his blessing, and the sin must be followed up with confession to God. Our prayers will likely be any mix of the three.

From time to time I feel more heavily the pressure of pain and general deregulation of my body processing normal irritations as trauma. I am not in danger but my body perceives that I am. I want to respond, I want to act out, I want to make the insanity stop. These desires are a mix of my being. I am a sinner responding to suffering and a saint saved by grace seeking to practice restraint. Suffering brings out this human complexity.

For the saint, suffering is like a spherical slope on which we will slide in one way or another. We can lean into Christ and act out our faith in Him or we can lean in the other direction and act out our unbelief. Often we will tumble back and forth like a game of Plinko rolling in and out of our saintliness and sinfulness. Suffering is a refining fire testing our ability to believe God's promises and have faith that he works everything for good. As those fires of suffering rage, our belief and unbelief will be exposed in their many forms and degrees. They are revealed to us so that we may see what is in our hearts and that the Lord may honor belief as well as wipe clean the dross of unbelief. This is the blessed sanctification that happens amid suffering. As God tells us, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:1 and reiterated by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-7). As we are refined by fire, it is typically an exception - not the rule - that we will lament without any measure of unbelief. This is where God invites us to grow in trust and confess to him the ways we have distrusted Him that were previously hidden to us before their revealing in the furnace.

The Role of Repentance

While we are enduring refining fire, let our focus not be on answering the me-centric questions raised in our suffering, but the God-centric questions raised by our suffering. As we lament we explore questions about God. Is God just? Does God orchestrate the universe on the strict principle of perfect justice? Does God love me? Why is this happening? These are all great and honorable questions about God’s love and justice. God welcomes our questions and wrestlings. Yet when our wrestlings turn to accusations that, “God can’t be just if I am suffering like this,” we are challenging the love and wisdom of God, abandoning faith and making a me-centric accusation about God's character from our limited perspective. By God’s grace, we will be met with conviction - God's kindness that leads to repentance.

Suffering allows opportunities to admit we don't have the universal perspective that God has which leads us to confess the ways we have made assumptions about God based on our limited perspective. Though we may be angry and express our anger through lament, we are never in a position to accuse God. However, do not be afraid if you find yourself there! Remember, our grief, questioning, and wrestlings bring to the surface unbelief of which we were once unaware. This is a beautiful opportunity to see misunderstandings or doubts that were in you, confess them to God, ask His forgiveness and accept His help to walk in repentance. This honesty with ourselves takes resolve to brave faith. So often we try to hold our mess in. We can exhaust ourselves by trying to maintain a got-it-all-together reputation. This only creates stress that will eventually lead us astray in one way or another. We have to be willing to let the mess out so that we can see what is in our hearts. Instead of trying to cover it up, ignore or deny it, let us create a safe space to let it out and respond, “Okay, Lord, this is a mess. How can I respond in a way that is pursuing You honestly and pursuing holiness?”

Confession vs Repentance

While confession is important, it is not the end goal - repentance is. Confession is to admit wrongdoing or lack. Repentance is agreeing with God that said wrongdoing is sin against God, being sorrowful over the affront to God, and the subsequent turning from that sin to pursue holiness. Early in our marriage, my husband had a vision of me clinging to the cross but trembling as I looked out at all the bloodthirsty terrors that surrounded me. I knew where to go for help but I wasn't actually turning to God. We can cling to the cross with all our might and still be overcome with anxieties. Freedom is found when we look up to Christ with lamentful confession of our need. It is in seeking the face of God that we are confronted with the holiness of God and our confession begins to transform into repentance with redemption inevitably to follow.

When the Bible tells us to repent, it means something more than just acknowledging wrong, more than changing our minds or our way of living. We are called to be sorrowful over our sin, not because we are embarrassed but because we were either deceived or willfully disbelieving God. Anything less is just covering up our old ways. The changes won’t last and will lead us to spiritual numbing or death.

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” 
- 2 Corinthians 7:10

Lament is godly grief and genuine repentance cannot be absent of lament. This does not mean that if you don’t feel deeply emotional over your sin you have not truly repented. Each person will express lament according to the nature God has given them. Regardless of how you express it, genuine repentance comes from lament - a wailing and/or deploring over your sin. As you turn to God in lament over your sin He will free you from the spiritual burden of sin and its consequent shame.

Confession alone can simply be what the Apostle Paul calls, “worldly sorrow” which only heaps on more shame, further imprisoning the saint leading to hopelessness and death. Sorrow over sin without lamenting to the face of God is deadly for the Christian. Godly sorrow and genuine repentance are not absent of lament. Confession blooms into repentance when a saint turns to God Almighty in lament over sin - this is genuine repentance that leads to freedom with no regret.

When God meets us in our confession of need or unbelief we begin the journey from lament into the fresh air of adoration of our good God who hears us. Next week we will talk about how lament breaks forth into adoration of God in

Part 4: Adoration in Lament.
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