In the Greek Translation of the Old Testament, the word for the book of Lamentations is simply ‘Tears’ and indeed the word comes from the Latin word for tears. The book is made up of 5 different songs or poems of weeping- each chapter is a separate song. They were written by Jeremiah, who prophesied for 40 years to God’s people across a very devastating period of their history. He had seen the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Judah and horrible atrocities along the way, as well as having a traumatic personal story which began with his family attempting to assassinate him and ended with him being kidnapped, taken to a remote part of Egypt and dying alone.
But here he is weeping over Jerusalem, over God’s judgement of His people, over the pain and suffering he has witnessed. There is lots in our world worth weeping over. One thing at the forefront of the media at the moment is the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and the awful injustice that so many people around the world have suffered because of the colour of their skin. And there are countless other circumstances we could weep over and that may be on our hearts – the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, people living under domestic violence, the persecution of Christians in India… the list goes on.
So what can we learn from Jeremiah about crying?
- It’s okay to cry. If you have grown up in a culture that considers crying weak, over-dramatic, embarrassing or only for babies, know that this is just cultural and not biblical truth. The Bible is full of people crying, mourning, pouring out their hearts, crying out to God for mercy. And never when people are doing this out of a genuine heart-place does God slap them round the face and tell them to man up. He hears their cries, he weeps with them, he has mercy on them. We live in a fallen world that produces cause for weeping.
- It’s better to cry with God. It is easy to cry on our own, we can become insular when we are upset and emotionally affected, especially if we don’t see God at work in a circumstance. But throughout Jeremiah’s laments, God is there, He is acknowledged and addressed and honoured. A few weeks ago I was lying in bed trying to sleep after reading some horrible news stories, including the murder of George Floyd. I was telling my husband about them, going over some of the feelings evoked and despairing of the evil. He pointed out that when I read or hear about these things, I need to be praying. If we try and bear the pain that is present in the world without including God, it will not be good. We need to have His perspective, we need to keep going to Him, He is the only one who holds everything in His hands and so if you are weeping over something alone, try and turn it into a prayer.
- Not to abandon truth in the face of emotion. In verses 17-18, Jeremiah writes “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say. ‘My endurance has perished; and so has my hope from the Lord.’” That is how Jeremiah feels, but a couple of verses later he intentionally calls truth to mind, and thus rouses hope in himself. He speaks of God’s mercy, love, faithfulness, provision. He speaks in faith even when he does not see hope. We can experience ongoing pain, mourning, weeping, and still know God’s truth. We can rejoice in God’s goodness even in the midst of crying. This doesn’t mean that we abandon reality and pretend that everything is rosy, it means that we are aware and remind ourselves of a reality even beyond what we see.
- To pray with hope in salvation. Jeremiah trusts that God will rescue and speaks of waiting patiently for His salvation. He has hope because he knows that God will save. How much greater can our hope be now that He has already saved! He has brought salvation to us through Jesus and if we believe in Him we can already start to experience the freedom that he has bought us with such love and mercy. We can also hope for a time when He will wipe every tear from every eye, whilst praying that He will bring his kingdom here on earth and believing that things can change if God brings it about.
Luke 6 v 21 says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” If you weep, you are not to be pitied or to dry your eyes and forget about it. You are heard by God and your tears are valued. In the tears, remind yourself who your great God is, be blessed with the hope that you shall laugh, and knowledge of the truth that you are saved.