The difference between lament and despair is a thin line—and that line matters. Despair gives up. The word despair is from the Latin de (down from) and sperare (hope). Despair moves down from hope.
Lament is the opposite. Lament moves us up to hope.
Here’s the hope of all laments: Jesus left the comfort of heaven and entered Jerusalem’s long years of suffering. He became both the object and subject of God’s wrath. In taking upon himself the consequences for all of our sin, the penalty for the world’s idolatry, and the power of death, and in taking on the principalities and forces of darkness, Jesus didn’t hesitate to expose himself to the worst any person could face. Instead, he willingly bore the full weight of it all on the cross.
After years of longing, after generations of lament—through the suffering of their very own King—the Israelites were, as we are, healed. When Jesus rose again three days later, he miraculously transformed suffering into the very thing that saves us. Jesus beat death at its own game. And one day, he will come again and put an end to all suffering and death forever.
Because of the sin-smashing, death-defying, bondage-breaking, heart-healing, prisoner-emancipating, forgiveness-bringing, heaven and earth-meeting, new creation-ushering, shalom-restoring, victory-winning, righteousness-gifting work of the cross—pain and suffering will never be the end of our story. All laments—from Job’s to Jeremiah’s, from Jonah’s to yours—are answered in the lament-ending love of Jesus. Lament is the up-to-hope journey because it is ultimately the up-to-Jesus journey.
In fact, the predominant context of the book of Lamentations is the destruction of the temple, the downfall of Jerusalem. But as we know, God has brought the restoration of the True Temple: Jesus Christ, himself raised up and victorious (John 2).
Our hope in suffering is never found by “looking on the bright side.” Hope is not the same as having a “platitude attitude.” Hope for the Christian is always about the object of our hope, the One all laments long for and lead to: Jesus.
1. In the final days of Lent, we are reminded of Christ’s suffering. The pain and hurt poured out on our behalf as Jesus was nailed to the cross, paying the penalty we owed, and bearing the full weight of darkness, sin, and death—all of his actions tell us that we worship a God who is acquainted with sorrow and grief. Yet death, sin, and darkness were no match for his power and love. We can find healing in our Savior, who understands our pain and suffering because he has endured it. How does thinking about what Jesus did on the cross and the suffering He bore on the world’s behalf comfort you in your pain? How can pain and heartbreak draw you nearer to him because you know that He fully understands?
2. In between the day Christ was nailed to the cross and his resurrection from the grave, there was Saturday. It was the in between when it seemed that hope was lost, evil had won, and death had the final word. Not knowing that Sunday was just around the corner, many who witnessed Jesus upon the cross, lost their hope. You and I, however, have the privilege of knowing how the story ended – in victory. We know how our story will end as well because of Jesus. A day is coming in which there will be no more tears, death, or pain (Revelation 21:4). How does knowing the victory of Jesus produce hope?
3. Where have you been placing your hope? On a change in circumstances? In other people? In an ideology, politician or political party? In material possessions or finances? In your successes? In the economy? Who or where have you been looking for salvation? Be honest with yourself and God.
Jesus, you are the only source of true hope. As I have sought to find peace and comfort in other places, I am constantly reminded that you alone are where my hope lies. On the cross, you bore the weight of all the pain and suffering, sin and darkness, on my behalf. Remind me that hope is not elusive, it does not slip through my fingers when suffering comes. Hope is you, Jesus. Let all my lament lead me to the only hope that will not fade. Amen.
A Practice: Communion
In the final days of Holy week, gather with other believers in your home or church or over Zoom, and be reminded of Christ’s body broken for you and His blood poured out on your behalf with the taking of communion together.
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