Lament and mourn and weep

Many people turn to the Bible when they are feeling discouraged or lonely, looking for verses that will inspire them or comfort them, hoping to find pearls from God that will chase their blues away and restore a smile to their face.

But sometimes, while looking for verses of comfort and inspiration, we stumble upon a verse like James 4:9: “Lament and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.”

Why would God allow such a verse, lacking any comfort or encouragement for our souls, to have slipped into the pages of Scripture?  Why doesn’t it read, “Rejoice, laugh and sing; change your mourning to laughter and your gloom to joy”?

Either this verse is a mistake, failing to share with us the joyful good news of the gospel or this verse shares with us the truth we need to hear, that there is a treasure in the midst of lamenting, mourning and weeping that we need to pay attention to. 

In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson notes,  “People submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel like they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no one they meet.  Such dissatisfaction with the world-as-it-is is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship.  The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.

“A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.  As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.  A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” (p. 22)

If we search in the Bible only for verses that comfort and encourage us, we may never become sufficiently fed up with the ways of the world or the sins within our souls.

AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) recognizes the power for good in lamenting, mourning and weeping over the brokenness of our lives.  Steps 5, 6 and 7 of the 12 Step program particularly address this.  Steps 5-7 state, “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”  When we lament and mourn and weep over what is broken in us, we are on the path toward healing.

The Franciscans offer a prayer that invites us to lament and mourn and weep:

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”

God calls us to lament and mourn and weep not because God wants us to be miserable but because honestly facing our brokenness leads to deeper freedom and serenity.  That’s why James 4:10 goes on to assure us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” 

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