Lamentations is worthy of our attention. If, as the Church, we soaked in this book more regularly, we would develop greater sympathy for others, firmer trust in God’s promises, and a deeper understanding of God’s character and what it means to seek him.
As a book, Lamentations is overlooked and ignored. Bible readers often don’t know what to do with it. It’s short and poetic, but it is found among the major prophets instead of within the wisdom literature. It is full of lament, so inspiration-seeking Christians cannot easily hop between uplifting verses. The book is heavy and sad, filled with the sorrows of the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem.
But this book is a gem. God has given it to us as his inspired word, and if we’re willing, we have much to learn from this volume.
An Extended Lament
The main thing we miss if we bypass Lamentations is an extended look at lament.
Many books of the Bible contain lament—including as many as one third of the Psalms. But Lamentations is the only book which is only lament. When we read this book, we face sorrow and grief from beginning to end.
Most Western Christians are not familiar with lament; it makes us uncomfortable. With Lamentations we are forced to wrestle with lament as a legitimate, biblical form of prayer.
The laments in Lamentations differ from those in many of the Psalms in important ways. The author of Lamentations confesses guilt on behalf of the Israelites (Lam 1:5; 1:8–9; 1:18; 1:22; 4:13–16) and recognizes God’s hand in the destruction of the city and the holy temple (Lam 2:1–10). Even though God’s anger is justified against his people, their sorrowful cry in the midst of a terrible situation is still legitimate.
This book of laments also makes Bible readers grapple with the issue of complaint. Complaining to God cannot be inherently wrong because most of Lamentations is a detailed list of all the ways the people are suffering. Therefore, we must learn to distinguish between godly complaint and ungodly complaint. (It may be helpful to use the term “grumbling” instead of “complaining” to make this distinction.)