Chapter OneThe Path of Sovereign Sorrow
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Before there were drops of rain, human tears fell in the garden, and
that was when lament began. In Eden, Adam and Eve enjoyed the unbroken
Presence of God. It was immediate and intimate. His hesed, an untranslatable
Hebrew word often rendered "loving-kindness," was a given, reliable as the
fresh, newly created air they both breathed.
Then, in a moment when the Presence seemed somehow impossibly
absent, in some forgotten corner of the garden, Satan, the Accuser and ultimate
cause of all lament, called into question the hesed of God.
"Here is some wonderful, life-giving fruit that He does not want you to
have," he, in effect, hissed at Eve. He longed to deceive the first couple into
believing that in order to know God, they only needed to know and receive
His gifts. The great lie was that God's gifts were all that He was. The temptation
was to believe that if the gift could not be had, then it was somehow
not really real and neither was God's love. Do these vile whisperings sound
at all familiar to you? Do you remember ever hearing them in some dark
forgotten corner of your heart?
When it seemed His Presence was absent, the Accuser accused God of
acting in a way inconsistent with His hesed. After all, Someone who is truly
loving does not keep good gifts from His children, does He?
"Why doesn't He?"
"Where is He?"
And so the bite was taken. But it was not simply the bite itself that caused
the Fall and gave birth to the first groanings of lament from both creature and
creation. The bite was only a consequent act of disbelief. It was the denial and
doubting of God's hesed that led to the dis-belief that caused the two prodigals
to be driven into the wilderness of His absence, never to return. It was bound
up with the mis-belief that God was only the sum of His gifts and no more.
All this flowing from the stubborn sin of un-belief.
As the two outcasts made their stumbling way out of the garden, the hesed
of God caused an innocent animal to be sacrificed to make garments to cover
the nakedness of the first couple, so they would know they were naked. By
such sacrifices, their sins would be covered until the time when they would
be washed away by a final torrential wave of hesed that would break down the
hillside of Golgotha, as One who was Himself the Presence of God would
cry out in lament.
The Presence that had always been (and sadly would have always been)
palpable and immediate was altered, seemingly broken, and lament became
the language of Adam and Eve, of you and me, and indeed of all creation (see
Presence seemingly broken.
The lamentable journey began through Adam for all mankind. But the
heartbreaking sorrow of the three (Adam, Eve, and God) was not and could
never be beyond His perfect intention. It was a sovereign sorrow that fell
upon the world, a wordless sorrow beyond our knowing. And as His loving
wisdom does with all things, even and especially with our sin, God would
redeem their disobedience and sorrow, transforming it by means of His hesed
into a pathway back to the loving-kindness of His Presence.
It was a shadowy path that began outside the garden. It meanders
through all our lives, inevitably leading us through the darkest valleys of our
fallen experience. But we must never forget that it is a path, that it is goingsomewhere. There is a final destination somewhere outside the gates of a city.
But I'm getting ahead of myself for now.
As we make our way along the shadowy twists and turns of the way of
lament, two questions confront us again and again. They are echoes of the
experience of the first couple in the garden. If you dig deeply enough you will
discover that one or both of them lie at the heart of every lament, from Job's
to Jesus'. The two fundamental questions of complaint:
God, where are you? (Presence)
God, if You love me, then why? (hesed)
Vocabulary and Concepts
Before you, a narrow pathway extends into a dark terrain. Perhaps you have
crossed it at various times in your life, maybe even traveled for a season within
its boundaries. The path is lament, and this study will help you explore its
length more deliberately.
The Bible promises that the path is going somewhere. Though it frequently
passes through the "valley of the shadow of death," that is not its final end.
First, there are a few milestones, signposts, with which we must become
familiar. Our first week will be spent learning to read them and follow their
direction along the way. But more than direction, they will give a sense of
shape and meaning to what can sometimes appear to be a senseless and
confusing journey. Perhaps you might even consider them lampposts like the
one on the border of Narnia, marking the boundary between one land and
another completely different one.
Once the trek begins, we will be joined by other, infinitely more
experienced travelers. We will meet the first-Job-and walk with him for a
time. We will follow in his footsteps in order to gain our direction and learn
the proper pace. Without his help in the beginning of the trip, we would
most likely lose our way.
Next, we will take up with David. Having begun to get accustomed to
the landscape, our time with him will provide us with priceless and hard-fought
knowledge of how to deal with all the various terrain. The road may
turn sharply uphill or might skirt a precipice. The landscape will, no doubt,
be dark. David will enable us to follow the path no matter how steep, rocky,
Just as we part company with David, Jeremiah will join us. He will teach
us how to follow the course with a crowd, as well as when we are utterly alone.
He, perhaps as no one we've met thus far, has fallen more often along this
path of lament. His knees are more bruised and bloody. He will understand
if we long to turn back and look for home. He will remind us that our final
home lies at the other end of the trail, in the direction we are already heading.
Most importantly, Jeremiah will prepare us, will teach us to recognize the
most important Guide we will encounter along the path of lament.
Finally, at what seems the far end of the trail, we will encounter Jesus.
We will find Him waiting for us. In His company we will discover that what
we thought was the end is, in fact, the beginning. What felt like the last of
our strength has become the first. The trail will become no less rough or
steep with Him, yet we will find it a different trail.
If you are ready, let's begin. I would like to be able to tell you that it
will be easy, but it will not. In fact, these next ten weeks might be the most
spiritually strenuous in your life. But I am as certain as faith can make one
certain that we are, you and I, called to follow this path wherever it goes. And
it promises to go someplace wonderful.
What Is a Lament?
Lament is not a word we typically use in everyday conversation. What does it
mean? Is it simply a sad song?
Biblical laments are "songs"-that is, they are made up of lyrics. When
you look at the way they are set aside in the margins of your Bible, you can tell
they're poetic in structure. Most of them were originally set to music. Many
have musical notations, naming a well-known melody, or perhaps describing
what kinds of instruments they were written for. Look at Psalm 22, one of the
most poignant laments in the Bible. It was to be played to the tune of a long
lost melody entitled, "The Doe of the Morning." The musical notes for the
laments in Habakkuk occur at the very end; "For the director of music. On
my stringed instruments (3:19)." David, who composed most of the laments
in the Bible, was a fine harpist (see 1 Samuel 16:16-23) but also composed for
flutes (for example, Psalm 5 superscription) and other "stringed instruments"
(see Psalm 4 superscription). Psalm 81 lists other musical instruments like the
tambourine, lyre, and ram's horn. So clearly the Bible indicates that laments
are at least lyrical, if not almost certainly song lyrics.
But are laments always sad? Many of them are poignant, such as David's
lament for his friend Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:19-27. But others are filled with
fear (Psalm 55:5), confusion (Psalm 13), or even the blackest hatred (Psalm
109). In fact, the full range of human emotions is to be found in the laments
of the Bible.
How Is This Study Organized?
This is a ten-week study. Each week has an introduction and then is divided
into five days of study. Each week will involve reading, both in this book and
in the Bible. There will also be questions on which to reflect and discuss
and opportunities for journaling. Finally, you will have the chance to begin
writing your own laments. This is called an "Experience Guide" because the
central purpose is for you to experience a new and deeper type of interaction
with God-biblical lament.
As you work through the various Scripture readings, you might try using
an ancient form called the lectio divina or "divine reading." This is a simple
method which involves reading through a passage of Scripture three times.
The first time, called the lectio, you simply let the words wash over you, never
straining to "solve the puzzle." Initially you listen to the words of Scripture
with the "ears of your heart." When you are finished with this first reading,
spend some quiet time listening to what you remember about the text. This
is called the meditatio, or meditation.
The second time, as you read, ask the Holy Spirit to speak directly to
your heart through some phrase or word in the text. This is called the oratio.
Finally, spend some time savoring this word as a precious gift. Again, do not
strain to decipher it; only receive it as a gift.
On your final read through, move slowly once more through the entire
passage. When you come to the special verse that was the Spirit's gift to you,
pause one final moment and listen to it with a heart of thanksgiving. Allow
yourself to rest in the given-ness of God's Word to you. This is called thecontemplatio.
This ancient method of reading the Bible is more about connecting
with God and less about straining to achieve a didactic understanding of the
text. It relies on the simple belief that, alone with the Scripture before God,
anyone who is willing to come can receive the Word as a priceless gift.
(I am thankful to Bob and Claudia Mitchell for teaching me this ancient
technique during a Navigators retreat at Glen Eyrie.)
When Isaiah and later John cried out their message of preparing a way and
making it straight, they made clear where this "way" would be experienced:in the wilderness. It is only in the desert places that we pick up the trail of
The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to say, "Let My
people go that they may worship Me in the wilderness."
(Exodus 7:16, JPS)
These were the final words of God through Moses before the plagues were
to descend upon Egypt. God's intention was deliverance for His people andthe goal of deliverance is always worship.
The purpose of their hard-won freedom was not simply emancipation. The
purpose was the worship of God. And notice the place where their worship was
to begin: "in the wilderness." True worship always begins in the wilderness.
In the wilderness, the children of Israel discovered God's worth. When
they were thirsty, the rock would be struck and water miraculously provided
(see Exodus 16; Numbers 20; 1 Corinthians 10:4). When they were attacked,
God told the people, "Stand still, I will fight for you" (see Exodus 14:14).
The people discovered what their God was worth. In fact, the first primitive
form of the word worship was "worth-ship."
Through worship, we offer ourselves to God (see Romans 12:1). Along
the pathway of lament we realize that the invitation of Scripture is to offerall of our emotional lives to God-our joys as well as our sorrows, the full
spectrum of our hearts, including even the hatred we have for our enemies.
As the path winds through the desert, we discover the dimensions of thirst
and find out that the Rock is still with us, providing living water. When we
are hungry, He feeds us with Himself. In the wilderness we discover how
much He is worth. This is an uncharted area of worship for most Christians
today. We need to rediscover this lost and overgrown path.
Remember what Job did when he first entered into the wilderness of his
suffering, when he heard that all his children had been killed? He worshiped
(see 1:20). His worship was in the form of lament, and through it Job offered
up to God the deepest disappointment and sorrow of his heart. At the end of
his long journey of lament, Job discovered a new depth to the worth of God.
When David was lost in the wilderness of his sin with Bathsheba, how did he
find his way back? He worshiped (see Psalm 51). His worship was in the form
of a lament of contrition, and through it David found that God had been
waiting all along to meet him, forgive him, and restore him. David found
God waiting there on the pathway of lament.
As he stood over the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem and finally witnessed the
unthinkable destruction he had prophetically seen for so long, Jeremiah felt
within his heart both the sorrow of his seemingly forsaken people, as well as
the wordless grief of the God whom they had forsaken. The Holy City had
become a deserted wasteland. The only pathway out of the ruins of both the
city and the spiritual lives of the people was lament. Jeremiah composed and
conducted laments on behalf of both Israel and God.
When Jesus was forced to wander through that darkest of death's shadows, the
deep blackness of the sin of the world, it was through His cries of lament that
He held on to the "joy set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). He was worshiping there
on that cross, for there He demonstrated and the world discovered that God
alone was worthy. Jesus' worship took on the only form it could have taken: the
form of lament. Through it He offered His confusion and desolation to God
as an act of worship. And, as Hebrews 5:7 says, "he was heard."
Tabernacles in the Wilderness
In the wilderness, Moses had been shown the pattern for the Tabernacle.
There the people were to gather to "meet with God." And over it hovered
the Presence of the cloud by day and the fire by night. At the center of this
big tent complex was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was
placed. Above it resided the Presence.
If Pentecost (see Acts 2) suggests anything to us, it is that we have
become God's tabernacles in the wilderness of this fallen world. The flaming
tongues of fire that hovered over the heads of those early Christians were the
sure sign that God's Spirit had come to inhabit them, even as He had filled
We have inside of us something like a Holy of Holies. Its shape is defined
by our sorrows, though it is meant to be filled with our joy. Like the inner
room of the tabernacle in the wilderness, it is a sacred place that can only
be entered by a priest, by our High Priest. He is also known as the Man of
Sorrows, who is acquainted with our grief (see Isaiah 53:3). It had been His
intention all along to enter into that holiest of places in your life, that place
that He already knows so well. It is a wilderness place. It must be so. If you
and I are going to meet with Him there, it must be by way of lament.
At a time when so many of us talk about worship, the Scriptures are
calling us beyond a shallow experience of good feelings to the place of Job,
David, Jeremiah, and Jesus. This is a place where we come to realize that God
wants every part of us, everything we have to give, especially our sorrow and
pain, for those must become our offerings of biblical worship. The glorious
truth is, God wants it all!
Suggested Bible Readings: Exodus 12:31-15:18; Mark 1:1-13
Reflect & Discuss:
1. What parts of yourself have you not been offering to God in worship?
2. Can you think of times in your life when your personal "wilderness" led
you to worship?