No one likes to grieve, but there’s plenty in life that calls for grieving. The news is full of accounts of or about sorrowful events that make our hearts ache. Recently, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian Olympic sprinter, had a public feud with officials from her team at the games. She said that authorities “made it clear” she would face punishment if she returned home. (Belarus has an autocratic government that stifles criticism.) The Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire. And, speaking of fires, the Bootleg fire in Oregon has consumed over 413,000 acres and may burn all summer. The world is subjected to sin. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23) But we often read news stories without them affecting us. I sometimes skip over reports that have no impact on my life and then confess my apathy for the trials of others. I’m glad to have a friend who recently told me that she is tired of pointing out all the sins of this world to those who are in denial about them. She reminded me that lamenting sin is precisely what we should be doing. We don’t lament nearly enough. Lamenting, a profound demonstration of sorrow, goes one step beyond grief. Sincere lamentation in the Bible is especially evident in Job, David’s psalms, and Jeremiah’s Lamentations. Biblical lamentation leads to greater hope in the Lord’s provisions and faithfulness. Tsimanouskaya’s criticism has helped the world to know about the restrictive atmosphere of Belarus. More reluctant people are getting vaccinated for COVID-19, helping to curb fatalities. But it’s hard to understand why God allows the devastating wildfires in Oregon, California, and other places. If nothing else, he has given us a dramatic, unmistakable picture of sin’s effect on life. We are meant to lament the consequences of sin, though painful, to deepen our hope in God, especially in our trials.
David lamented that his sin was crushing him, causing him great pain, so he confessed. “My iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me…For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.” (Psalm 38:4, 17-18) John Gill comments, “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head…Like an inundation of waters, as the waves and billows of the sea; for the waters to come up to the neck or chin shows great danger; but when they go over the head the case is desperate, and a person is sinking and drowning…the simile may denote both the number and weight of sins, and also signifies the overwhelming distress the psalmist was in, under a view of them; they are too heavy for me; the guilt of sin upon the conscience, without a view of pardon, lies heavy indeed, and makes a man a burden to himself.” (1) In Psalm 38:1-8 “the singer describes the anguish of his body and mind, acknowledging that he deserves it because of his sin (vv. 1, 3, 5, 8), and that these troubles come from God (v. 2)…In such a hopeless situation, the faithful must look to God alone, and here he implores God to come to his aid (38:15–22). He shows true faith in confessing the iniquity for which he is being disciplined (v. 18) and in calling the Lord his salvation (v. 22).” (2)
Quiet, Private, Vulnerable Lamenting
Lamenting over sin is not wailing and beating our breasts, as if this great show of grief will somehow satisfy our hatred for our sin. In Africa, the Jewish culture, and other people groups, people value dramatic displays of grief. But God does not call us to put on a show. When Jesus visited the sick, he made a point of creating a quiet, private space inside while people were wailing outside (Mark 5:38-39). We are told to go into our “closet” to meet with the Lord (Matthew 6:6). Biblical lamenting takes the form of a prayer with confession and a desire for repentance. “Spurgeon says, ‘The psalm opens with a prayer (v. 1), continues in a long complaint (vv. 2–8), pauses to dart an eye to heaven (v. 9), proceeds with a second tale of sorrow (vv. 10–14), interjects another word of hopeful address to God (v. 15), a third time pours out a flood of griefs (vv. 16–20), and then closes as it opened, with renewed petitioning (vv. 21–22).’” (3) We approach our lament as a burden that we want to cast onto God for relief (1 Peter 5:7). We are to come to the Lord as we meet with a doctor in an examination room, asking for her scrutiny, diagnosis, and treatment. We feel exposed and vulnerable in that skimpy gown that never entirely closes while we wait for the doctor to enter. This is the kind of vulnerability we should have with the Lord about our sin. “Sin is a burden. The power of sin dwelling in us is a weight (Heb. 12:1). All are clogged with it; it keeps men from soaring upward and pressing forward. The guilt of sin committed by us is a burden, a heavy burden; it is a burden to God (he is pressed under it), a burden to the whole creation, which groans under it…Sins are wounds, painful mortal wounds. A slight sore, neglected, may prove of fatal consequence, and so may a slight sin slighted and left unrepented of…Sickness will tame the strongest body and the stoutest spirit. David was famed for his courage and great exploits; and yet, when God contended with him by bodily sickness and the impressions of his wrath upon his mind, his hair is cut, his heart fails him, and he becomes weak as water.” (4)
The Bible says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). “Joel 1:8, ‘Lament like a virgin wearing sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.’ Contrition is deeper than regret. We may all regret something we have done but still not sorrow over it. Mariano Di Gangi writes in his study of Joel, ‘Do we know what it means to be contrite? God desires that sinners sense their guilt and weep within for what their sins have done to defile self, destroy neighbor, and dishonor Christ. When we experience poverty of spirit, we are on the right road to everlasting enrichment from the treasury of divine grace. When we mourn over our sins, we pass through spiritual winter. Then comes the springtime of God’s comfort’…[David] has confessed (and is confessing) his sin. He is troubled by it. The purpose of discipline is to bring honest confession followed by a corresponding change of life. That purpose has been accomplished. David has confessed his sin. Therefore, it is time for the heavy hand of God that is upon him to be lifted. ‘Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!’ (Psalm 38:22)” (5)
Grieving is our work for repentance while the Holy Spirit helps us remember and apply the knowledge “that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). Today, when we read the news, let’s not pass over it so quickly, as if the sin of the world is not ours. Like David, let us look at the reality of sin’s effects, mourn it’s consequences, and turn our eyes upon the Lord for our hope and help. (6) Lamenting all sin is our work here, to glorify God more fully. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14)
Related Scripture: Job 7:20-21; Psalm 69; Romans 7:24; 8:21-22; Hebrews 12:1
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 38:4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-38.html
- English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalms 38, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 38” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
- Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Psalm 38:1-11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/psalms-38.html
- Boice, James, Joel 2:1-18, Ibid.
- I highly recommend Pastor Allen Taha’s sermon on Romans 6:5-14, “The Christian’s Emancipation,” https://www.trinityboerne.org/sermons/sermon/2021-08-01/the-christians-emancipation
August 5, 2021