Meeting God in Grief (Part I)

English Service on October 18, 2020

Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison


Lamentations 5:19-22


Meeting God in Grief (Part I)


              In our time together in God’s word here the past several months, we have learned what He says to people who feel tired, weak, isolated, lonely, afraid, or worried.  The COVID-19 pandemic has put many of us in these types of situations.  Even if we are not directly impacted by this virus, it is remarkable to me how much suffering there is in our world right now.  Just listening to the prayer requests shared among our church family members here recently, I am struck with how much pain and loss and tragedy—whether physical, emotional, relational, or whatever type—is part of life for so many of us.  That’s why we naturally look for strength on the inside and help from the outside. 


              When suffering leads to loss, grief is the result.  I see every day the numbers of people who have lost their lives to the coronavirus, well over 200,000 in my country alone and over 1,000,000 worldwide, with no clear end in sight.  On one hand, the number is so overwhelming that I can hardly react to it.  Yet on the other, over time, a feeling of deep sorrow and grief builds up and seems to need expression.  And beyond the coronavirus, it breaks my heart to see people in my home country so full of hate that they are willing to kill each other over elections, racial divisions, or whatever—over who gets to control things. 


              As followers of Christ, how are we to react when pain and suffering lead us into grief?  When we lose people or opportunities or dreams or other parts of our lives that have deep meaning to us, what are we supposed to do?  We may sense that some ways of responding are much healthier and constructive, some more damaging and destructive.  But the paths that lead us those very different directions can be amazingly difficult to distinguish.  How can we find the way to go?


              Thankfully, we have help.  The Lord has anticipated our need for this, and a huge number of people of faith have faced this same difficulty over the centuries.  One gift that God has given us to help us make our way through the desert of grief is the book of Lamentations.  It is a collection of five laments, or expressions of grief, of a person in Jerusalem over losing his home, city, and country.  Babylon has come, destroyed it all, and begun carrying away many Jewish people as slaves.  In the way the author responds to losing so, so much in this terrible time, God has provided His people with a model that can teach us how to deal with the grief when it is there in our hearts. 


              As one of your pastors, I want to help equip you for the times of grief that will be part of your life.  If you want to have a faith that really means something—that is a solid foundation on which to build your life—part of that is going to be learning how to grieve well.  You and I need a faith that is more than a nice decoration to place on top of our lives, but intentionally built into all the parts of them.  Knowing God deeply will empower us to see how to deal with grief in ways that in the end lead to health and peace and life. 


I would like to make that our goal for at least this message and the next.  Even if you think you don’t need to know now how to act when trouble comes, you will someday.  So whether or not you feel you need this message today, my appeal to you is to receive it, file it away, remember it, and come back to it when you or someone you know needs it.  My prayer is that one mark of our relationship with God will be the strength it provides when we have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4a), so to speak.


              Lamentations does not tell us who wrote it, but many Bible scholars think it was Jeremiah.  (I’ll assume they’re right.)  He is known as “the weeping prophet” because he spent a big part of his life telling his nation the heart-breaking news that God’s punishment was coming.  For many years God’s people had turned away from Him and worshiped idols.  They had let rich people get away with oppressing poor people.  In many ways, they had broken the covenant that the Lord had made with them as His special people.


God is very patient and slow to anger, but sooner or later, He will punish what is bad.  By turning away from their Creator, Sustainer, Healer, and Father, the nations of Israel and Judah were inviting His righteous judgment, so Jeremiah and other prophets warned them and called them back to God.  But now the time for punishment has arrived in Jerusalem, and the writer of Lamentations reacts to it by expressing deep grief.


              Probably the best way to understand the terrible things that happened to Jerusalem is to read II Kings 24-25.  It tells how Babylon’s soldiers came, cut the city off from its food supplies, waited until people were starving, then defeated the Jewish military, burned the city, and forced large numbers of its people to leave their homeland and live under their control in Babylon.  But the II Kings story is longer, and Lamentations tells about it in various shorter sections, such as 1:3-5.


After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed festivals. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her young women grieve, and she is in   bitter anguish. Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease. The LORD has brought her grief because of her many sins. Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe. 


              To react to all that has happened, the writer of Lamentations chooses an interesting approach.  He puts his thoughts and feelings in the form of acrostics, or alphabet poems.  That is, each verse or small section begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order.  You might read an acrostic in English like this poem around Mother’s Day, for example.


“M” is for the million things she gave me.

“O” means only that she’s growing old.

“T” is for the tears she shed to save me. 

“H” is for her heart of purest gold.

“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining.

 “R” means right, and right she’ll always be.


Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”

A word that means the world to me.


In Lamentations, each verse in the first, second, and fourth laments, or chapters of the book, begins with one of the Hebrew alphabet’s 22 letters.  The third chapter has the same format, except that instead of one verse per letter, it’s three.  In the last, fifth, chapter, the writer kind of breaks this pattern, as if his powerful feelings of pain cannot be contained in it.  But even then, one letter of the alphabet begins each section.


Why would he write in pre-set patterns like this?  Sometimes authors use that form to make the content easy to remember, but that doesn’t seem to be the point here.  Much more likely, he is choosing this type of pattern because it forces him and the reader to go over all that the people of Jerusalem are experiencing and feeling step by step, pain by pain, not skipping over any of it. 


One of the biggest temptations people in suffering—and those who try to help them—often have, is wanting to avoid facing and dealing with the cause of the pain.  It may seem easier somehow to act as if everything is OK.  We may quickly change the topic of conversation to something more pleasant than a painful loss.  We may not have the courage to talk honestly about the suffering and just try to cheer up someone who is going through it.  We may try to skip steps in the grieving process and just “make it all better.”  If someone we know has suffered some painful loss, for example, and weeks and months later is still upset about it, we may think to ourselves, “Aren’t you over that yet?” 


Lamentations works against that.  As God’s word, it takes suffering seriously.  It pushes us to be honest with our feelings and thoughts about our suffering.  The road to healing and recovery lies that way, and this book won’t let us try to helicopter over it. 


What is the writer trying to do through the words of Lamentations?  For one thing, moving his terrible feelings from the inside to the outside.  For instance in 1:20, he says, “See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death.”  Expressing feelings, getting them out by putting them into words—often the same ones again and again—is a necessary part of the healing process for human beings. 


The author is also protesting, often to people but also to God.  Listen to 1:21. 


People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my distress; they rejoice at what you have done. May you bring the day you have announced so they may become like me. 


These things that are happening—they’re not right!  People shouldn’t be killed just because there’s a military in another country that is too powerful for them to stop.  People shouldn’t lose their jobs and families because their nations’ leaders made bad decisions.  We shouldn’t have to watch people burning down the city we love!  When people don’t have enough to eat, that’s wrong!


              Besides expressing feelings and protesting, the writer is voicing a lot of confusion.  Through his pain, he is seeking understanding but not finding it.  Even in today’s Bible reading, at the very end of the book, he has not come up with neat, clean answers to his deep questions.  It’s not that he doesn’t believe in God anymore.  In 5:19 he says, “Lord, you rule forever. Your throne will last for all time to come.”  But precisely because he knows God is there, he struggles greatly to understand why the Lord doesn’t make this nightmare end.  In the very next verse, he asks, “Why do you always forget us? Why have you deserted us for so long?”  We might think that by the end of the book, God has helped him find answers to his questions, but here is how Lamentations ends (5:21-22): “Lord, please bring us back to you. Then we can return. Make our lives like new again. Or have you completely turned away from us? Are you really that angry with us?”  That’s not a Hollywood movie happy ending, is it?  There is a place in the life of faith for voicing our honest confusion, for confessing our questions and doubts.  There are more positive moments in Lamentations, when the writer swings from confusion to clarity, mourning to celebration.  I want to look at those with you another day.  But here there is honest confusion, not tied up nicely with a pretty bow on top of it but left hanging there as the book ends. 


              Yet inside this is one last purpose to note, which appears again and again in Lamentations.  The author is seeking God’s help.  In 1:9, “Look, LORD, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.”  In 3:58: “Lord, you have seen the wrong things people have done to me. Stand up for me again!” 


              In doing all these things with his grief, the writer models faith for us.  Faithful people in God’s word never deny the suffering they have, but they know where to take it.  They have built the habit of “tak(ing) it to the Lord in prayer” (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”).  They don’t just ignore it, but they direct it toward God.  They give us a rich vocabulary to use when tragedy strikes us.  When troubles overwhelm us, people sometimes say, “I just can’t pray.  The words don’t come.”  In those times, if nothing else, we may want to simply read the words printed in Lamentations.  We may feel them as our own words then, even if at no other time. 


              A hymn writer named Charles Tindley wrote a song of faith over 100 years ago, “Leave It There.”  Here is an arrangement by Reverend Phillip E. Knight.  Let’s receive the guidance it gives us as we close the time of today’s message. 



If the world from you withhold

Of its silver and its gold,

And you have to get along with meager fare,

Just remember, in His Word,

How He feeds the little bird;

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.


Leave it there, leave it there,

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

If you trust and never doubt,

He will surely bring you out.

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.


If your body suffers pain

And your health you can’t regain,

And your soul is almost sinking in despair,

Jesus knows the pain you feel,

He can save and He can heal;

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.



When your youthful days are gone

And old age is stealing on,

And your body bends beneath the weight of care;

He will never leave you then,

He’ll go with you to the end.

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.




              Let’s pray together.


              Almighty God and loving Father, thank you that when life forces us to carry heavy burdens, we can take them to you and leave them there.  Thank you for not only staying up in the beauty of heaven but, in the life of your Son Jesus and His death on the cross, entering into our pain and suffering with us.  Praise you for giving us the freedom to be honest with you, for being big enough to handle whatever we bring to you.  Even if we feel the most we can do is cry out in pain, complain, and lose ourselves in wondering why, thank you that we can turn our grief to you and find you helping us walk through it step by step.  Heal the parts of our lives that need healing.  Teach us to help each other when our times of trouble come, as they will for all of us.  And bring our divided, broken, and hurting world back together again in your peace.  We ask these things in the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus.  Amen.




Bible Project, The. (2016, July 1). Lamentations. Retrieved October 12, 2020 from

Bible Study Tools. (2020). Book of Lamentations. Salem Web Network. Salem Media Group. Retrieved September 30, 2020 from

Knight, P. E. (Nov. 5, 2015). “Leave It There.” Retrieved October 17, 2020 from

Peterson, E. H. (1992). Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.         

 Lamentations 5:19-22


19 Lord, you rule forever. Your throne will last for all time to come. 

20 Why do you always forget us? Why have you deserted us for so long? 

21 Lord, please bring us back to you. Then we can return. Make our lives like new again. 

22 Or have you completely turned away from us? Are you really that angry with us?