We must learn to notice and acknowledge the suffering of others. We can lament on their behalf, asking God to look and see and comfort. When we encounter our neighbors’ grief, it may be raw and wild. We don’t need to offer advice or platitudes; often our presence is enough.
In the midst of any prolonged suffering, we feel a natural desire for relief. We want the pain to go away, the grief to recede, the devastation to subside.
But there’s an earlier, more fundamental need we have as humans in mourning. We want to be seen.
The book of Lamentations in the Bible is filled with urgent cries of agony. Assumed by many to be written by Jeremiah (though never identified internally this way), Lamentations is a book of five laments about the destruction of Jerusalem. As an agent of God’s judgment on his people for their sin, the nation of Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. After destroying the temple and much of the city, the Babylonians led most of the residents away to captivity.
This was a heartbreaking, disastrous situation for all Israelites. The prayers recorded in the book of Lamentations were written by one of the people left behind, and they were used in Jewish worship services for decades afterward. These prayers are filled with loss and anguish, and they teach us as God’s people how to process grief in his presence.
Requests in Lamentations 1
A lament is a genre of prayer found in the Bible which usually contains complaints, requests, and expressions of trust in the Lord. Not all of these ingredients are found in all laments, but most laments include at least two of these elements.
It’s not hard to find the complaints in the first chapter of Lamentations—they’re everywhere. This is easy to understand, as the city and temple have been leveled. All that the Jewish people knew and held dear was reduced to rubble.
The requests in this chapter are more scarce. In fact, before the last two verses, there is only one petition I see, and it appears three times.
“O Lord, behold my affliction”
In verse 9, the author writes, “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!”
The Israelites have “sinned grievously” (verse 8) and Jerusalem has fallen in a public and embarrassing way (verses 8–9). There is no one to comfort her (verse 9). The Lord “has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (verse 5).