April 30, 2020
Where were you when the president announced the community quarantine?
I was in a coffee shop with my campus ministry team, waiting for the president’s announcement and trying to figure out how we can continue with our work despite the situation.
Nearly two months since that day, so much has already happened in our country—the death toll has spiked, a number of medical front liners have died, the country’s peace-and-order situation has become volatile, and the quarantine was extended twice.
As the body bags pile up across the world, so do our questions about God.
God, why do You allow Your people to go through such great suffering?
Lord, how long will You be silent?
God, don’t You care that people are dying?
If you’ve already asked these questions—whether secretly or out loud—and somehow felt guilty for even entertaining such doubts and questions about God, I want you to know that it’s okay.
In fact, the Bible is filled with such questions from people who had a solid relationship with Him:
Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?
—The Prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations 5:20)
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
—The Prophet Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:2, NIV)
“The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out for help.
But God charges no one with wrongdoing.”
—Job (Job 24:12, NIV)
In these terrifying times, it is a normal human response to weep, grieve, and cry out for justice and mercy. It is normal for finite human beings to ask questions—and for Christians not to know the answer.
Author Benjamin Windle wrote, “When you live through a culturally disruptive moment, it marks you forever.” We’re living in a period of human history that will leave a mark on our collective psyche for the rest of our lives. The depth of the suffering, the extent of the disruption, the mental pictures of bodies piling up before getting burned—all of these things will be forever etched on our minds and will change the way we walk the earth.
But how do we deal with our pain while not being consumed by doubts and grief?
How do we go through our suffering while keeping our eyes fixed on the promises of God for us?
First, we need to acknowledge our pain, come to terms with this sad reality, and get in touch with our emotions.
It’s okay if nothing seems to make sense at the moment. Suffering affects us deeply—it disrupts our lives, shakes our peace and security, and disorients our faith in God.
By facing the brutal reality and confronting the nagging questions inside our heads, we start to get a grip on ourselves and begin to move forward into the grieving process.
The way to deal with suffering is not to deny its pain or to try to explain it away through positive thinking or by chanting Bible verses. The first thing to do is to acknowledge your pain and to confront your doubts and questions.
God will meet you there.
God will meet you in that place of grief and pain, and will take you by the hand and lead you toward His promises for you.
The Bible has a name for this: Lamentation.
Lamentation is an intense expression of grief and sorrow in response to pain and suffering. The Bible has an extensive record of people who expressed their laments to God even to the point of questioning Him and almost doubting His character.
King David, the man dubbed as “a man after God’s own heart,” had written numerous psalms full of doubts and questions.
Aside from David, the prophets lived through turbulent times; these prophets expressed their great sorrow in writing. Jeremiah even wrote an entire book containing his lamentations for the nation of Israel.
Even Jesus, the Son of God Himself, lamented before God and shouted, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”
By including these laments in the biblical records, God wants us to know that we can be honest with Him about how we feel. He gives us the freedom to express our pain and brokenness before Him.
Lamentation is a means of God’s grace, assuring us that He is with us even in the deep valley of the shadow of death. He wants us to know that we can worship Him even from the depths of our brokenness.
Lamentation is God’s way of taking us through a journey of faith: from the place of pain to the land of His promises.
Lamentations are always an interpersonal act with God; they can be done alone or in community. Lamenting is more than just ranting and wallowing in pain; it starts with acknowledging our desperation and brokenness and ends with declaring who God is despite our situation.
Since pain and suffering must be dealt with emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually, biblical laments flow like this:
Cry out. Approach God with confidence, be vulnerable about how you feel, and tell Him everything you want to say. God is never intimidated by our questions, and He invites us to come to Him just as we are.
Grief and sorrow must be released. Just like David in the Bible, you may cry out to God and release all your emotions. Let your soul groan before God; don’t hold back. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). God will not punish you for your honesty; besides, He already knows what’s going on in our minds even before we say a word.
Call to mind. From that place of pain and frustration, remember who God is. The prophet Jeremiah did the same when he wrote the book of Lamentations. In the middle of a long string of lament and grief, Jeremiah broke into a song:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Remember God’s love and faithfulness. Remember His promises. Declare the word of God. Let your declaration change your perception and shape your experience. Don’t meditate on the brutal facts; meditate on the truth of God’s word.
Call forth. After remembering God’s nature and power, rise up in faith and call forth the power of God over your situation.
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Psalm 22:19,20 (NIV)
Call forth courage, faith, and hope from within your soul. As the psalmist wrote, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5 NIV).
Connect. Don’t go through your pain and suffering alone. As you constantly abide in God, connect with a life-giving community who can help you, speak hope to you, and encourage you.
After coming to God, you can process your emotions with trusted people who will help you find strength in God.
In Psalm 22:22, David said, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” Knowing that you can share your suffering with others and call to God together is a source of strength and encouragement.
We may never know how long this situation will last, but we know that God will not allow this suffering to last forever.
In the middle of hoping and waiting, let us not hesitate to approach God’s throne of grace. Come to God with confidence, for He promised that whenever we come to Him just as we are, He will give us mercy and grace to help us in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
As an exercise, why don’t you bring your own laments to God right now? What news or events caused you grief? What questions do you have for God? Bring your sorrows before God in the form of a letter, a poem, a song, an artwork, or through a simple prayer.
Cry out to Him, call to mind His faithfulness in your own life, and confess His Lordship over the situation.