June Exercises: Fasting and Lament

Throughout Scripture we see the people of God repeatedly caught up in circumstances that are tragic. Indeed, since the fall the introduction of sin in Genesis 3 suffering and death have been an inescapable part of life. The world is broken and we are broken. Even Christ’s own resurrection, and its promise that one day all things will be revived and restored, does not shelter us from the current realities of pain and loss. Lament – the profound feeling and expression of grief and sorrow – is the right response to that pain and loss. This month we offer some suggestions that might help us grow a healthy view of life in a fallen world.

First we recognise that we have permission to lament as individuals and as communities. God does not consider it a sign of lack of faith for us to feel sorrow and grief. A large portion of the Psalms is dedicated to expressing grief and frustration. The Psalmists knew claims of injury and injustice could confidently be brought to God; only he could ultimately put things right. Lament – crying out to God in our distress – is actually a sign of faith, a statement that God is big enough to handle the world’s problems. It is a commitment to living out our faith in a fallen world, rather than our fantasy of a perfect utopia. Given the natural and personal disasters that take place in our world every day, it seems right to allow space in our lives for appropriate responses to be expressed.

Those who have learned to lament well tend to carry authenticity. That’s often why the Psalms surprise us with their honesty. When the writer is overjoyed, they tells us. When they are distraught, we read about it. There is no stiff upper lip. Instead we see evidence of a refreshing transparency. 

Theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff, after his son Eric was tragically killed in the climbing accident, wrote, “So I own my own grief. I do not try to pull it behind me, to get over it, to forget it. I do not try to disown it.” (Lament for a Son, 1987. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ) And so, our pain and grief can be fully expressed to God. We try to ‘own it’ in our prayers of lament.

Such prayers bring our pain before the only person who can make an ultimate difference – God. He does not promise us freedom from grief or suffering yet, but he does promise to meet us in the midst of them. And sometimes, in his timing, this may only be after a time of feeling very alone. It takes time for the initial shock of what has happened to sink in, time for our default protestations of disbelief and anger to subside, time for us to believe again Mr Beaver’s description of Aslan (representing Jesus): “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Corse he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (from C.S.Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

With that belief that God is good, in spite of the circumstances, comes a glimpse of hope. Almost all the Psalms of lament have, by the end, declared the goodness of God. He has met the writers in their trouble, or they rest in the knowledge that he is working to overcome evil – their cries have been heard.

Christian hope is unique and it can be held even through long seasons of lament. Through each of the weeks of this month I encourage you to try the following exercises in lament and fasting– click on the buttons below.