Have you ever expressed your sorrow in a lament? Wisdom from Ralph Davis…

I preached II Samuel 1 this evening, in part of which David sings a song of lament for Saul and Jonathan. We don’t often sing or even compose songs of lament in America when we lose loved one, but perhaps that is to our detriment. Dr. Ralph Davis has wise words of explanation and application about this passage, and I’d rather not see them hidden in the pages of his II Samuel commentary – so here they are:

When David “lamented this lament” (literal translation of verse 17a) over Saul and Jonathan he produced a self-conscious, reflective expression of grief that could be reduced to written form (verse 18b). A lament is a formal expression of grief or distress, one that can be written, read, learned, practiced, repeated. A lament differs from the informal, spontaneous immediate outbursts of grief like those of 1:11-12. A lament is no less sorrowful or sincere; but it is a vehicle for the mind as well as for the emotions. A lament is an expression of thoughtful grief.

In a written lament then words cannot simply be dumped or gushed or mushed as in initial grief. Here one cannot simply vomit out feelings but must choose words. Not that the lament is cold, objective and detached. Rather the intensity of one’s emotions unite with the discipline of one’s mind to produce structured sorrow, a sort of authorized version of distress, a kind of coherent agony. In a lament, therefore, words are carefully selected, crafted, honed, to express loss as closely yet fully as possible.

I wonder if there is a principle here for all Yahweh’s people when they lose, especially, Christian friends or loved ones. Along with our emotional grief should we not also express our reflective grief? Why not write down our grief in careful, thoughtful lament form and offer it up to God as such? And do so again and again?

The sorrows and wounds God’s people receive from their losses are not miraculously healed after a short time of emotional catharsis. And sometimes in the church there is such an impatience with grief. Why isn’t Allan “over” Carol’s death or Connie over Tom’s since it’s been eighteen months – why can’t that mother get beyond the death of her ten-year-old? But the lament form of the Bible assumes that our grief is deep and ongoing, and it invites us to enter the discipline of expressing the grief in words that convey our anguish, in images that picture our despair, in written prayers that verbalize despondency. Why should God’s people be shoddy in their sorrow?

If you read this and have lost a loved one recently or in days gone by, it might be that one day you will desire to compose such “structured sorrow” to be able to pour your heart out to the Lord like water. If you do it, and would be willing to share, I’d love to read it.


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