Originally published in Issue #10 on June 4, 2021
Lament is an important part of the Christian life. Scripture testifies to the importance of lament in books like Lamentations and the Psalms. But while there are no lament songs or explicit poems in the New Testament, the New Testament authors infuse lament throughout their depictions of suffering.
We find one example of this kind of lament in Romans 8:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.
– Romans 8:18-25 (CSB)
In this passage, Paul describes creation as “subjected to futility” and “groaning together with labor pains.” We too “groan within ourselves” alongside creation. Lament is a passionate expression of sorrow, and Paul’s description of creation’s current state certainly fits that description. But Biblical lament fuses suffering and cries for help with hope. Psalm 130 shows us that:
Out of the depths I call to you, LORD!
Lord, listen to my voice;
let your ears be attentive
to my cry for help.
LORD, if you kept an account of iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for the LORD; I wait
and put my hope in his word.
– Psalms 130:1-5 (CSB)
Psalm 130 describes a person who feels as though he is in the depths (a symbol of the grave, chaos, or death) and cries for the Lord. But in verse 4 the person turns around in hope because of what he knows about God. This is what Paul does in Romans 8 as well.
21 in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children
Creation may be in bondage and crying out for relief, but in the style of Biblical lament, creation is not hopeless. This personified creation has hope in what it knows about God: that the salvation God has accomplished for humanity will result in the entire creation made new. Paul describes the current state of creation as being in birth (Romans 8:22). Pain, suffering, and lament may exist now, but just like labor is temporary, so is the current state of the world. And just like the joy of new birth, so will the joy of new creation wipe every memory of suffering from our minds.