The book of Lamentations is a funeral dirge. We read five poems written about the author’s grief and pain over the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of God’s temple. Yet these poems are not the ramblings of one man’s pain. The structure of this poetry reveals a carefully thought response to grief in which the author takes us on his journey through grief and pain. This brings us to the first poem, Lamentations 1, an acrostic where each verse begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As we study, please remember that the first poem does not have all the answers but is the starting point for a godly handling of grief and pain.
Lack of Comfort
The declaration that stands out in this poem is that there is no one to comfort. “She has none to comfort her” (1:2). “She has no comforter” (1:9). “My eyes flow with tears for a comfort is far from me” (1:16). “Zion stretches out her hands but there is none to comfort her” (1:17). “They heard my groaning, yet there is no one to comfort me” (1:21). You will notice that in three of these instances (1:2,9,17) the author is referring to the lack of comfort for city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. However, in the other two instances the author refers to himself (notice the switch to the first person) and his own lack of comforters in his grief (1:16, 21). Tied closely with this is the word “groaning” which occurs five times in this poem (1:4,8, 11, 21, 22). The city is groaning, the people are groaning, and the author is groaning. These words of groaning and lack of comfort ring like a funeral bell gonging throughout the poem.
In verse 7 utter helplessness is depicted. The city is in deep misery and all that is left to do is to remember the former days of happiness. This is what disaster and despair do to our lives. Our grief and our pain become so overwhelming that life seems helpless and hopeless. All one feels that they can do is remember the good days in the past for it seems that there will be no more good days ahead. Verse 12 continues this thought where the question is asked if anyone has sorrowed more than them. This is also what intense grief does. The person feels like no one has gone through what you are going through. No one is sorrowful like me! No one is sorrowful like us! It is a time when we look and see the joy of the wicked and wonder why we are in agony while trying to be righteous. There is no one to comfort.
This is a fact about grief and pain. There is nothing another person can do. As much as we enjoy haveing the sympathy of others, when you get down to it, it is not comfort. Yes, it is nice to know that you have friends and family. Yes, it is wonderful to know that people care. But there is nothing that a person can do. When we got the diagnosis for Grace and her disability, there was nothing anyone could do. When my parents got divorced when I was 9, there was nothing anyone could do. What comfort can you give? When you are going through pain and grief, there are no words that can help. There are no quick fixes. There is no comfort. Not only is there no comfort, but those who you thought were your friends and helpers become enemies (1:2). Jerusalem speaks of those who were supposed to be her allies and supporters, yet they have turned their backs on her. We put a false hope in people. People are going to let us down. They cannot be our comforters because they do not have the power to do so. They cannot help. They are just as helpless as you are.
So we go through our pain and grief. Listen to the pain that the author describes for himself and for those who lived in Jerusalem. The physical grief that they are feeling is intense and overwhelming. In verse 13 the author describes the pain as fire in his bones. The intensity of his grief causes his body to ache all over. Further, in verse 13 he says that he is stunned and faint. In verse 16 he declares that he is crying and that his eyes flow with tears. Have you been afflicted with pain so great that your eyes just overflow with tears? Sleepless nights filled with tears. His body hurts with the grief he is enduring. In verse 20 the author says that because of his distress his stomach churns and his heart is wrung within him. He feels like his insides have been twisted and turned over. Grief is physically painful. Grief hurts.
Truth In Grief
As we study through these poems in Lamentations we are looking for critical truths that are to help anchor our lives through grief and pain. The author expresses a truth that is his first anchor in his grief. “The Lord is in the right” (1:18). God is always in the right. Deuteronomy 32:4 expresses this truth.
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV)
Whatever is happening, we have no place to charge God with wrongdoing. This is the mistake that I believe we see Job commit that he must be corrected in. No one can charge God with wrong or making a mistake. This is when we are tempted to fail in our grief. We begin to think that God has done something wrong. The Lord is always in the right, whatever happens to us. We are the ones who are not in the right. Even though we are seeing the author exclaim in pain, “How could God do this?” we also see him saying, “The Lord is in the right.” I do not understand this but there is one thing I know: our Lord is always right in all that he does. Hold on to this truth in pain and grief.
Hope In Grief
We noted earlier that one of the difficulties with pain and grief is there are no comforters. There is nothing another person can do. We feel helpless in our grief and others feel helpless in your grief. What can a person do? But this does not mean that we are left helpless and hopeless. God describes himself as the one who gives comfort and relief.
Think about how miserable the people are in their grief for all they had lost. Listen to the opening words of Isaiah’s prophecy after depicting the fall of Jerusalem.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1–2 ESV)
God will comfort his people. The next words of Isaiah’s prophecy is the call to prepare the way of the Lord. God is coming and he is coming to comfort his people. Though there was no one to comfort Jerusalem for her sins and for her loss, God speaks tenderly to his people and brings comfort.
This is true for us today also. Listen to what the apostle Paul says to the Christians in Corinth.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5 ESV)
Our God is the Father of mercies. He is the God of all comfort. There may be no comfort in this world. But God is the one over all comfort. He is the giver of comfort. He comforts us in our pain and affliction and we comfort others through that comfort. God gives the comfort we need!
This is why prayer is the first place to turn in our grief and pain. When Jesus is in anguish, moments before he is about to be betrayed, what is Jesus doing? Jesus is praying! Prayer to God is the first step forward. Prayer is the only way forward. God is the only one who can comfort. We are taught to pour out our complaint, sorrow, and anguish to the God in whose presence we not only live but also grieve. Notice that this is exactly what the author of Lamentations does in his grief.
“O Lord, behold my affliction!” (1:9)
“Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.” (1:11)
“Look, O Lord, for I am in distress.” (1:20)
This is all we need for turning to God. You may not know what to say. You may not know what to ask for. You may not know what help you need. But you can turn to the Lord in prayer and say, “Lord, look!” See my pain! Look at what has happened to me! You are the God of all comfort and all that you do is right! Please comfort me in my distress. These are the first steps for a godly response to pain and grief in our lives, looking to God who gives mercy and comfort.