Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, while acknowledging that technology has given modern culture some marked advantages over ancient societies, laments that the fields of psychology (with its propensity to deny sin) and mental health have not kept up with advances in the "hard" sciences. Instead of resolving basic interior problems, modern psychology treats the symptoms rather than the ailment by masking the consequences of sin with drugs. A notable exception to the general defect of psychology are recent developments in crisis and grief counseling. It is altogether feasible to see the Book of Lamentations as a form of crisis counseling, facilitating stricken Israel's coming to grips with waves of grief. The crisis itself—Jerusalem's fall to the pagan Babylonians—represented an intervention from God, as He tried to turn Israel away from her sins. The Book of Lamentations provides strategies to cope while moving toward repentance, including (1.) creating awareness, delving into possible causes, (2.) allowing catharsis, that is, expressing emotions, (3.) providing support, assuring Israel that her responses are natural, (4.) increasing expansion, that is, helping Israel overcome tunnel vision, (5.) focusing upon the specific cause of the crisis, (6.) providing guidance in overcome hurdles, (7.) providing mobilization, that is, pointing out peripheral support, (8.) implementing order, that is, putting Israel on a manageable routine, providing her with a sense of control, and (9.) providing protection from self-inflicted injury. In chapter 2, the narrator (speaking as the voice of Godly reason), uses some of these strategies. Sadly, however, at the chapter's end, Lady Jerusalem sidesteps godly repentance, opting instead for self-centered recrimination against Almighty God. Though God has actively brought about Judah's tribulations, the root cause of her troubles lay with her breaking her covenant with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that these laments contain little that is jovial or uplifting, but instead are saturated in despair, sorrow, mourning, and even recrimination against God on the part of a personified Jerusalem, whom God depicts as a grieving widow, blaming others for her troubles while overlooking her own sins as the real cause of her sorrows. Solomon instructs us that the house of mourning contains more insight and serves as a better cathartic than the house of mirth. The reality of death imparts to us a sense of sobriety and wisdom about how to conduct our lives. We need to take the time to think about somber things and how they relate to the purpose of life. Godly sorrow, as opposed to worldly sorrow, leads to repentance, cleansing, change, and salvation. The proper effect of the Book of Lamentations is to motivate us to change. When we realize that God's punishment of Jerusalem was justified, we can apply the same godly standards to ourselves to determine if we are as culpable as ancient Judah. In Lamentations, following the Narrator's dire description of Judah's demise, Lady Jerusalem, in a self-centered protest, blames everybody (including her lovers and God Almighty) but herself. Even though God has left her there to think about the consequences of her sins, she does not properly introspect, but, rather, blames others, excusing herself. As God's called-out ones, we must carefully compare our own self-deceptions with her self-deceptions, lest we suffer the same fate. Like ancient Judah, if we embrace sin, God will craft a yoke made of our transgressions, bringing unfathomable burden and grief.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Romans 8 provides assurance that we are of God, asks us to consider that the sufferings we go through now are miniscule compared to the glory which we will later receive, completely eclipsing the glory of Adam and Eve before their fall. Our suffering is temporal, fleeting, and momentary, as compared to our glory which will be eternal. Though our outer body wastes away, our inner being waxes more powerful. Sadly, we are limited by our mortality and our materialism from seeing the full picture which God has been revealing to us; Paul wants us to take the time to think it though. The whole material creation has been subject to futility; we groan, Creation and the Holy Spirit, both personified by Paul, groan. Nature is not a self-perfecting entity, but an entity subject to decay and entropy. People who do not know God will either worship or destroy the creation instead of worshipping its Creator. Either way, they are slaves to nature, cursed by Adam's sin. We, as God's called out ones, also groan waiting for our redemption into spirit bodies, enabling us to see God as He is. Our groaning is more akin to the expectant groaning of a woman in childbirth, awaiting a new life. Childbirth pangs last relatively for a short time compared to the aftermath blessing. We groan in hope, realizing that our bodies will be delivered in future glory, when we experience adoption into the very family of God, the final trajectory of our hope.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that joy is enumerated second in the order of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22, speculates upon the possibility that God intended a pre-determined order for these spiritual gifts, perhaps from the most important to lesser degrees of importance. If this is the case, Joy occupies a lofty position on this descending scale, following love, which the apostle Paul rates as the most important of all virtues. Because we live in a troubling world, our reserves of joy are probably somewhat low, making us feel that we are deficient in our apportioned measure of God's Holy Spirit. Because we are, through the Internet and media, profoundly cognizant of upheaval of the entire world community, our sense of angst is super-amplified. The ubiquitous craving for constant entertainment reflects a desire to anesthetize the nervous system from stark reality, anxiety, and depression. Solomon demonstrated that seeking relief through pleasure leads to a dead-end. Laughter seems to him sheer madness. Laughter and pleasure often hide grief and sorrow. C.S. Lewis distinguishes joy from happiness or pleasure, but suggests it is more synonymous with cheerfulness or calm delight. In Greek both grace and joy have the same etymological root. Consequently, joy is what God gives rather than what men chase after and produce. Biblical joy is a God-given sense of satisfaction and sense of well-being despite the difficulties of life. Joy is a calm cheerfulness, a hopeful, upbeat attitude which does not spring from anything earthly, but instead is inseparable from godly love. Biblical joy can only arise with a relationship with God. The quality of this relationship will determine our ability to withstand the horrible trials and tests ahead.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon the phrase in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is a time to tear [or rend] and a time to sew [or mend], delves into the Middle Eastern cultural practice of tearing garments as an expression of grief or despair. When God became upset with Solomon, the kingdom was torn in two as a torn garment. In the Amos 9 millennial prophecy, God declares that He will ultimately mend the torn garment upon Israel's repentance. When Saul, in panic, seized Samuel's mantle tearing it, Samuel used the tearing as a symbol, indicating the kingdom would be torn from Saul. The practice of rending clothes symbolizes sorrow, agony, despair, and hopelessness, a realization that God alone can restore the profound loss. When Job lost his family to death, his natural reaction was to rend his garments. Joshua and Caleb, not high priests, tore their garments in despair at the testimony of the evil spies. Ezra tore his garments when he learned that his people had been desecrating and polluting God's Holy Law. Mordecai tore his clothes in despair for the imminent demise of his people. Hezekiah and Josiah tore their clothes as a sign of repentance in an effort to demonstrate to God that they felt profound disgrace at the collective sins of the people and were intending to make the crooked ways of their ancestors straight again. Paul tore his clothes in horror when people were attempting to worship him as a Greek god. Because the office of priest was to embody hope, priestly garments, under no circumstances, were to be torn. Aaron was forbidden to tear his priestly garments at the death of his sons for using profane fire. The high priest Caiaphas blasphemously defied God's prohibition against rending priestly garments. Because Christ, our High Priest, never gave into hopelessness, His garments were not torn. The prophet Joel, admonishing us to rend our hearts in repentance, rather than our garments, assures us the even in the fearful, dreadful Day of the Lord there is hope if we turn to God.
Among Jesus Christ's greatest miracles is the resurrection of his good friend, Lazarus of Bethany, brother of two of His most ardent followers, Mary and Martha. Martin Collins examines John 11, particularly Jesus' approach to and way of expressing the concept of death.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Having faced the perils of life with disturbing regularity, Paul was intimately acquainted with the certainty of death, but being better spiritually educated and experienced than most of us are, he can provide us a positive example ...
Many of us like sneak previews of movies or books. Some of us even fast-forward or read ahead to catch a glimpse of the ending of a story. David Maas compares this natural curiosity to God's practice of showing us in His Word how life's experiences can turn out.
Blessedness and mourning seem contradictory to our way of thinking, but obviously Jesus saw spiritual benefits to sorrow. John Ritenbaugh shows why true, godly mourning gets such high marks from God.