Lonesome Dove tells the story of two aging former Texas Rangers, determined for one last great adventure, deciding to drive a herd of cattle from a Texas border town to the open plains of Montana. The story is filled with funny conversations, adventurous exploits, compelling characters, and overwhelming personal tragedy. Eventually, they complete the cattle drive to Montana, but not without taking heavy losses along the way. The story ends with the main character, Captain Woodrow F. Call, reflecting on the incredible journey and the devastating loss. In his reflection, you can see the overwhelming sense of lament written all over his face. The tension is thick, and the regret is thicker. As he reminisces on the loss and devastation his decision to go on the cattle drive wrought in the lives of those closest to him, Captain Call laments.
A Biblical Call to Lamentation
Lament – to feel and to express sorrow, regret, or grief.
What causes you to grieve? What events or circumstances cause you sorrow or regret?
As Christians, we would do well to stop, reflect, and lament. The Bible is filled with lamentation. Biblical characters lament. Much of Psalms includes lament. And, there is an entire book named “Lamentations” for crying out loud (pun intended). It seems that lamenting is a natural and expected part of our spiritual experience.
So, why don’t we lament? Maybe, we’re too distracted, too busy, overwhelmed, or too self-absorbed. Or, maybe it’s something more serious and even sinister. I think a major reason is we are programmed to protect our comfort at all costs; consequently, we are unwilling to do anything that is uncomfortable. And, lamenting is uncomfortable.
You might be thinking, why would a person in their right mind purposefully choose to grieve? The answer is simple: It is biblical, and it is beneficial.
In the greatest sermon ever preached, Jesus says: “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” It seems paradoxical that Jesus, the One promising abundant life and offering to remove our burdens would call us to mourn. But, he does call us to appropriate mourning.
The word translated “mourn” in Mt. 5:4 is associated with the OT prophets, who mourned because they recognized the pervasive presence of sin in the lives of the people, and they knew where sin would ultimately lead: disaster and judgment.
In Lamentations, Jeremiah the weeping prophet grieves over the wreckage of sin and the consequences of rebellion experienced among the people of God. He has the appropriate view of human rebellion and the appropriate view of divine justice. His response was to lament.
“Mourning” is also used in 1 Cor. 5:2 to grieve over sin. We can start to see a trend here. The mourning is grief over sin or loss due to sin. It’s not only sorrow about sin but also sorrow at seeing the world as it truly is, a world created perfectly but now devastated by sin.
A Personal Call to Lamentation
So, Jesus’ call to mourn was a call to recognize the brokenness and damage of the fallenness of the world. This should cause us to grieve. Cornelius Plantinga said: “Sin is the longest-running of human emergencies.” I fear that we have lost the sense of hatred of and mourning over sin. Consequently, we have lost our capacity to lament over the carnage sin brings.
What do you feel when you look at the state of our current culture? As cities are burning, racial tensions are inflamed, addictions and suicides skyrocket, families are crumbling, and babies are aborted. Anger, rage? Soul-penetrating sorrow?
More personally, what do you feel when you look at the state of your own spiritual life?
Our culture is falling apart as it drifts in a moral vacuum devoid of God. Worse, our souls are deteriorating in a sea of worldly pursuits and ungodly passions. We have reason to lament, but we often do not have the desire. We should grieve when we reflect on the carnage of sin in our world and in our own souls. We should grieve because all is not right in the world or in our lives.
So, let’s take a lesson from Jeremiah and Jesus. Take some time to reflect on how devastatingly bad sin is. And after you do that, take some time to reflect on how overwhelmingly gracious God is. Our sins deserve God’s judgment. Our rebellion should lead to the outpouring of God’s wrath. However, the Good News of Jesus is that though our sins abound more and more, God’s grace superabounds.
You see, the more we lament in a godly way with a godly perspective, the more we appreciate the forgiveness and redemption Jesus offers. Oddly enough, the more we mourn over sin’s devastation, the more we are comforted by God’s grace. That is exactly what Jesus meant in Mt. 5:4.
So, let’s don’t wait until the end of the story, like Woodrow Call, to reflect and to lament.
Take some time to lament this week. And, then take some time to praise God for his grace.
Blake Newsom, Ph.D. serves as Associate Professor of Expository Preaching and Director of the Caskey Center for Church Excellence at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Previously, he served as Dean of the Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as well as Senior Pastor of Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, AL.