Tears and Talk {Part 1}

J. I. Packer says, “Grief is the inward desolation that follows the losing of something or someone we loved – a child, a relative, an actual or anticipated life partner, a pet, a job, one’s home, one’s hopes, one’s health or whatever.”[1] The key words here of course are ‘love’ and ‘loss.’ Grief is the process of adapting to the loss of something or someone that we loved.

When a person loses a loved one, we speak of them being bereaved. The word ‘reaved’ means to rob, plunder, or tear away. So the one who is bereaved feels that he/she has been robbed or plundered, like having something or someone who is dearly loved taken away. The person feels they’re being torn in two. And God has given us an entire book of the Bible that addresses the issue of grief, an entire book of the Bible that shows us how to navigate this valley. The book is called Lamentations.

I began meditating on the book of Lamentations at the end of last year, and during these weeks, my wife, Karen, and I had the great privilege of meeting with several couples in our church who have experienced the loss of a child, along with three young women who had endured the loss of a brother.

Listening to these friends tell their stories and share their insights was profoundly helpful to me. Much insight has come from these conversations that we shared together around the book of Lamentations.

Historical Background to Lamentations

Lamentations describes, in excruciating detail, the grief and sorrow that resulted from the siege and eventual collapse of Jerusalem in 586 BC. It is called Lamentations because it is the lament of people who survived unspeakable loss, and then had to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and somehow find the strength to carry on.

God’s people endured five disasters – one on top of the other.

i. Enemies laid siege to the city

They just camped outside – no water, no food going in. They said, in effect: “We are just going to sit out here until the people starve.”

ii. Then the people starved

You will find more in this book about the horrors of surviving in a besieged city than you ever wanted to know.

iii. Then the city fell

The walls of the city kept the people safe from their enemies. But when the walls were finally breached, what made these people feel secure was taken away. And then they were completely overrun.

iv. Then the city was occupied

The fall of the city meant the end of the siege, but it also meant the beginning on an occupation in which God’s people found themselves under the heel of a brutal enemy who had smashed their walls and homes. They had become slaves.

v. Then the temple was destroyed.

The place where God had promised his presence was gone. So where was God in all of this? “Even the temple is gone.” Here are people who feel all alone, bereft, bereaved.

Many died in these awful days. Many more were taken off into exile – Ezekiel, Daniel, etc. Lamentations is the cry of the few who remained, the survivors, who had to find a way to survive in the ruins of their fallen city, what they once called home.

Lamentations is a cry from the depths of pain, sorrow and loss. It is the lament of the survivors. And more than any other book of the Bible, it speaks to those who grieve today.

The five chapters of this book are somewhat repetitive. Grief is like that. Grief is not linear. Those who have experienced grief know what it is like to go over and over what has happened again and again.

Tears and Talk

“Tears and Talk” – I took this title from a story told by Leslie Allen, who was the professor of Old Testament I studied under in London. He then went on to become Senior Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. While serving in this capacity, he also served for more than a decade as a hospital chaplain.

Leslie Allen has written a helpful book[2] in which he uses what he learned (as an Old Testament professor) about Lamentations to shed light on grief, and then uses what he learned (as a hospital chaplain) about grief to shed light on Lamentations.

He begins with the story of a young man named Raymond, who was brought to the hospital late one evening as a precaution against suicide. Raymond was a Christian man in his early twenties, committed to church, and actively engaged in youth ministry.

But he had gone through a series of tragedies that had overwhelmed him. A few months before, his parents had died, one after the other in a short space of time. Then he learned that his girlfriend had died from an overdose.[3]

The chaplain was called for and Leslie says, “When I arrived, I gently woke Raymond out of an exhausted sleep. Bleary eyed, he sat up in bed and said, ‘All I want to do is sleep…’

I realized that this was not the occasion for a long pastoral interchange. What short message could I leave about the way forward? I thought for a moment and said, ‘I want to leave three words with you, Raymond: tears, talk and time.’ I added a brief sentence to each word and then told him to go back to sleep and remember those three words when he woke up.”[4]

Tears: Let Them Flow!

Tears are the shuddering of the body at the pain of the soul. Tears are a wonderful gift from God. He gave us these ducts for a reason! Tears are a release valve for pain. So let the tears flow! Don’t hold them back. Lamentations is a book soaked in tears. Let me give you some samples…

  • She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks (Lam. 1:2).
  • For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me (Lam. 1:16).
  • My eyes are spent with weeping (Lam. 2:11).
  • My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people (Lam. 3:48).
  • My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees (Lam. 3:49).

Notice that the references to tears run throughout the book. They are not just in chapter 1 and then they dry up. The tears of grieving people come at unexpected times. You never know when they’re going to come next.

One member of our grief group reminded us of the hymn that says, “When sorrows like sea billows roll…”[5] Then she said, “Sorrow comes in waves, often when you don’t expect it. A new wave can be set off by a sight, a sound or a smell.”

Another member of our group said, “People often say to me: ‘I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t want to make you cry.’ And I say to them, ‘You’re not going to take me to a place that I don’t already live all the time.’”

Sometimes the tears just won’t come. One member of our group said, when she heard of the sudden death of her son in a car accident: “I was in such a state of shock, I couldn’t cry for days.” That was her testimony.

You have that in Lamentations too: “He has left me stunned, faint all the day long” (Lam. 1:13).[6] Sometimes the shock of a great loss freezes the senses for a time so that what you expect to feel, or even what you think you should feel, you don’t feel at all.

But Lamentations says, “When the tears come, let them flow! Don’t hold them back! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!” (Lam. 2:18). Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord (Lam. 2:19).

Leslie Allen comments, “I recall a patient who, having undergone a mastectomy, found it difficult to grieve [she said] because of her Christian faith… She thought grief was a sign of spiritual weakness and lack of trust. It had to be stifled [she thought] as dishonoring to God… Lamentations belies such a stoic view.”[7]

He is absolutely right. Here we have in a book of the Bible, something that validates the tears of godly people, faithful people.

Next week, we’ll be sharing the conclusion of this two-part series, “Tears and Talk,” by Pastor Colin Smith.


[1] 1 J. I. Packer, A Grief Sanctified, p. 9, Crossway, 2002.

[2] Leslie Allen, “A Liturgy of Grief: A Pastoral Commentary on Lamentations,” Baker Academic, 2011.

[3] Ibid., p.1-2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Horatio G. Spafford, from the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul,” 1873.

[6] See also ‘groaning’ (v21) and ‘churns’ (v20).

[7] Leslie Allen, p. 24.


[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org 

Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

 

 


 

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