Since January, I have been working through and teaching the book of Lamentations. It is often an ignored and misunderstood book of the bible. For those who do not live in the shadows of life, its dark pictures are depressing and we fear the emotions that is reveals within us, but for those who are used to living life "in the minor key" this book is all too real for them. Those who have been through those dark times are often the best equipped to encourage and counsel those who are in the thick of it.
The book of Lamentations begins with somewhat of a play and a dialogue between two characters we could call Lady Jerusalem and the sympathetic narrator. What piqued my interest as I began to study through the book was how the sympathetic narrator approached Lady Jerusalem. He clearly has the heart of a counselor as we see him encouraging here in the Lord throughout the book. I began to make a list of the things that the narrator as a counselor did in his interactions with Lady Jerusalem and later the audience for which the play has been performed.
I. He talked with her (Chapter 1 and 2)
The entire first two chapters of the book of Lamentations show a dialogue between our two characters. At times we see them making their own speeches, but we can get glimpses of the dialogue when they interrupt each other. We see Lady Jerusalem interrupting the speech of the narrator in vs 11 as she takes over before he reaches the last stanza. Later on the narrator interjects in vs 17.
Often when people are hurting we give them space and this might be what they need at the time, but often our reasoning for doing so is because we don't know what to say. The narrator in this text sympathizes with what Lady Jerusalem feels, he encourages her in the Lord, but he does not sit silently by. In Romans 12:15, we are commanded to "weep with those who weep" Silence is not an option. We don't have to try and fix their problem. We may just need to commiserate in their pain.
II. He sympathizes with her (1:1)
Sometimes the pain that people are going through is their own fault and we can get hardened to that as believers. If you think clearly about the situation in Lamentations, Jerusalem had grievously sinned against God. In fact Lady Jerusalem owns this in vs 18 "The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandment." She knew what she had done. She had already paid the price; there was no need to dog pile on her now. In approaching Lady Jerusalem, the narrator felt her pain.
III. He was physically there (Chapter 1)
This can be assumed: you cannot speak with someone if you are not there. I mean, the people of Jerusalem in 586 BC did not have cell phones to call each other. Being physically with someone has its own comfort that it brings. It lets them know that they are not alone.
IV. He weeps with her (2:1)
This point could have actually been made in chapter one but there is a word that is repeated in 1:1, 2:1 and 4:1. In English, this word is translated as "how" but the English gets nowhere near capturing the intent of the word. A fuller translation would be "how could this have happened." Ekah, the Hebrew word is an expression of wailing and grief and includes the idea of being choked up with sorrow. The narrator isn't just sad on the inside. He doesn't just have a grieving heart; He is violently weeping with this person. We often don't have the kind of relationships where we are even present when someone is crying like this. I speak this to our shame. But even if we were, we feel uncomfortable and don't know what to do. Our culture says bottle up those emotions and don't let them be seen. This leads to immeasurable damage. The biblical thing to do for those who are weeping is to weep with them.
V. He identifies with her (2:11)
We all know that guy who turns everything into a discussion about himself. This is not that. In 2:11, the narrator identifies with her by calling them his children and his people. He lets her know that he feels for them too because he is invested in her life.
VI. He sits in silence with her (2:13)
This principle may seem to be at odds with the first principle, but it really isn't. There is a time for silence and a time to speak up and the counselor must know the difference. Sitting in silence goes along with being there physically. It gives them space to express their grief. In vs 13, the narrator expresses his bewilderment that he doesn't know what else to say to comfort her. Sometimes words will fail us, but you know what, sometimes the words aren't what is needed at that moment.
VII. He reminds her of the truth (2:17)
Encouraging people in the Lord isn't intended to just num their pain. In fact, the purpose of Lament is to work through our grief to a position of faith in the Lord. The biblical counselor knows that that is where the healing will be found and encourages those who are grieving to work toward that goal. I don't see the narrator in this book preaching a long, haranguing sermon at her; rather, he brings up at key moments truth that she needs in her life. In vs 17, he reminds Lady Jerusalem "he hath done that which he devised, he hath fulfilled his word." In may seem harsh to say God did what He said He was going to do, but when someone is battling bitterness, they may need to be reminded of this in their life. The reminder that God was faithful to do what he said is not just a curse as found here, it is a promise of hope in 3:22.
We may hear our hearts say, “It’s hopeless!” but we should argue back. - Tim Keller
VIII. He challenges her to call out to the Lord (2:18)
Healing ultimately is not going to come from us. It must come from the Lord. All biblical counseling should result in motivating the one being counseled to seek the Lord. In vs 19, he calls her to action by saying Arise. Healing doesn't happen by accident. Scars do. The choice to rise up and seek the Lord is something we must call those who are hurting to get to.
IX. He empathizes with her (Chapter 3)
This is the passage that really motivated me to want to write this article. By chapter 3, the narrator has turned his address into a soliloquy addressed to the audience who have been represented by Lady Jerusalem up to this point.
In counseling, there is a concept that was developed by Carl Jung of the wounded healer based off of accounts from Greek mythology. Jung’s emphasis was a caution for those who practice psychotherapy not to allow the wounds of those they work with to infect themselves. This caution is not out of line with those who are working with hurting people because an open, infected wound can spread its infection to the wound of the healer if he is not careful. When you walk into the ER, notice that everyone gets suited up in their PPE. This is to protect against spread of disease. Jung admits in spite of it all that “it is his own hurt that is the measure of his power to heal” (1954, 116). This principle is consistent with Galatians 6:1 which says, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Every point of grief is also an opportunity to give in to sin and despair. Bitterness can set in. Unbelief rule our hearts. When dealing with those who hurt we must take caution; however, people in pain want someone who has gone through their grief to reach out to them and show them a way through it.
The situation here is slightly different from that of Carl Jung’s wounded healer in that we are not the one’s ultimately doing the healing. Vs 22-23 are the climax of this entire book. It is God who does the healing. Isaiah 53:5 ends with the phrase “by his stripes we are healed” Like the narrator of Lamentation we must point men to the One who can actually heal their wounds. Jesus is their one hope.
X. He points her to the Lord (3:22-23)
As stated previously, the goal of Lament is to come to a position of faith in the Lord. Our faith must be based on what the Lord has done and who He is. Vs 22-23, the narrator reminds his audience that the Lord is merciful and faithful. He will not cast off forever. He is our portion even when we have nothing else. His mercies are new every mourning. Tomorrow is a new day. You may struggle with unbelief and bitterness periodically as you work through you pain. Life is messy. One lesson we see in the Laments is that healing is not a linear step by step process. Sometimes you will gain some ground and the next moment you might lose some ground. Tomorrow is a new day.
He also reminds them in vs 31-33 that the Lord will not cast us off forever and he does not do this because he delights in hurting us. Vs 33 says He does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men. Vs 36 reminds us that God does not approve of crushing others, or subverting them. He is not on the side of the Babylonians in our lives.
This is only the first three chapters of the book and I know more points will be added to this list as I continue working through the book. Next week, we will be having an interview with a pastor's wife who struggled with infertility for years. Situations like this are times when we need to be there for those who grieve. To know how to interact with them because American culture is horrible at this. If you want to study more about Lamentations I would recommend the following resources:
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy- Mark Vroegop
A Liturgy of Grief- Leslie Allen
Word Biblical Commentary on Lamentations by Duane Garrett
Lamentations: a commentary by Adele Berlin