Learning the Language of Lament

Reviews of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, by Mark Vroegop

When grief hits, how do you respond? After the services are over, your freezer is empty from all the food people generously gave you and people think it’s time to “move forward” with your life, what’s your next step?

The Bible has plenty to say about grief, and Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Crossway 2019), by Mark Vroegop, digs deeply into a biblical perspective on this subject. From prayer to complaints, through Lamentations and Psalms, you’ll read new insights into grief shared publicly and experienced personally. Two reviewers from within the EFCA share their thoughts.

Meeting Our Grief With God’s Reality

By Ginny Bondeson

“I’m new at this faith thing,” my friend told me. “I need someone to listen and help me.”

I thought the cancer treatment was going well, but I just learned that maybe it is not.”

Last Sunday, within 30 minutes after the last hopeful chorus was sung at church, I shared tears and hugs with three women who were dealing with three different heavy burdens: cancer, loss of a dear friend and a family member in mental health crisis. They were being real with their pain.

How do I be as real with my comfort, to direct them to the only One who can comfort? Mark Vroegop’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is a welcome tool for situations like these. It’s an easy-to-read book and something I can use as a reference or a basis of discussion as I meet with hurting friends or serve as a Stephen Minister.

Loss strips our souls bare, exposes our dependence on God, and reveals how little we understand about Him and His ways.
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When I feel grief and loss, I need both simple words and solid content that points me heavenward. I need to reflect and journal to process through layers of emotion to what is true about God. This book is well set up for personal or small group discussion with helpful reflection questions at the end of each chapter.

In Chapter 3, “Ask Boldly,” Vroegop surveys lament Psalms and notes nine different types of bold requests we can make of God. I used this chapter with my prayer group this week. Each one of us read the Scripture referenced and one of the bold requests, praying for our absent friend who was hurting too much to attend but who desperately needed God’s help.

In this chapter and others toward the end of the book, the author points out very practical ways that lament can be applied to both personal and corporate times before the throne.

Loss strips our souls bare and exposes our dependence on God. It also reveals how little we understand about God and His ways. In pain, we don’t always feel like our prayers are heard, and our false expectations of what faith looks like only add to our pain. Pastor Vroegop knows how to soul wrestle through hope in God when God is silent.The book models well how to be real with our emotions, how to complain and how to turn those complaints toward trust in God.

As simply as the book is written, it still may be too much to just give to someone who is overwhelmed with pain, though I could easily see the author taking portions of the book to produce a right-sized pamphlet of encouragement for those situations. For the rest of us, it is a welcome introduction to the book of Lamentations, Psalms of lament and the entire concept of lament as prayer.

Ginny Bondeson is a member of Woodlands Church (EFCA) in Plover, Wisconsin. She holds a master’s degree in theology from Columbia International University and works for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point as international student advisor.

Embracing the Paradox of Life Through Lament

By Mark Kiekhaefer

“God is good…”

How would you complete this sentence?

Through lament, we can choose to connect with God as an act of faith, without dismissing the pain.
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Are you thinking, “all the time?” I’ve heard many responses like this over the years. While well-intended, these now strike me as superficial—especially after reading Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, by Mark Vroegop. To Vroegop, “God is good, but life is hard,” and still, “hard is not bad.” He points to lament as the medium to “[help] us embrace this paradox,” which is an act that “changes us along the way” (pg. 194).

Vroegop explains that lament is the biblical solution to finding God’s mercy in the midst of the sorrows and tragedies of life. Throughout the book, he presents lament as a prayer language most of us do not yet speak fluently.

The first part of the book instructs us how to lament through four representative Psalms. These Psalms provide a standard form: turn, complain, request and trust. I found the appendix a helpful guide for how to use this form in my personal prayers. We tend to isolate from God in the midst of tragedy, but through lament, we can choose to connect with God as an act of faith, without dismissing the pain. Vroegop states, “To cry is human, but to lament is Christian (pg. 26).”

Part Two journeys through Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations. This extended lament helps instruct the community of faith. A modern example of this are memorials created for national tragedies.

When the Vietnam War was unfolding, I was too young to grasp the full significance of the events. Years later, however, I visited a travelling version of the Vietnam monument. That experience helped me, and millions of others, learn from those events. Biblical lament provides the spiritual counterpart.

Properly exercised, lament guides the believer from asking why to believing who.
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In Chapter 7, Vroegop connects the societal disintegration of ancient Israel with our modern culture. From his exposition of Lamentations 4, two idols he unearths are “fixating on financial security” and “presuming divine favor” (pg. 125-127, 134-136). Readers may disagree over which idols in our modern culture are most consuming, but regardless, we must grapple with the issues he highlights.

The author points to the book Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times (InterVarsity 2015), by Soong-Chan Rah, as a helpful follow-up in this matter. He goes further in Chapter 10 by acknowledging his own uncomfortable silence in the wake of racial demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri.

I, too, as a member of the white majority, feel inadequate when addressing issues of racial inequality. Yet I’m now encouraged to begin overcoming that feeling of inadequacy by lamenting. As Vroegop writes, “Lament has the potential to provide a first step toward uniting people when hurt and misunderstanding are in the air ” (pg. 184).

In Part Three, Vroegop interweaves his personal tutorial into lament, sharing his grief over a stillborn daughter 15 years ago. Leading by example, he invites all readers to process their grief in a manner that deepens their faith. Properly exercised, lament guides the believer from asking why to believing who.

Reading Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy exposed my own ignorance of biblical lament. Though I was familiar with its presence in Scripture, Vroegop’s treatment of it made me see lament as an important way to connect with, serve and guide those who are suffering.

Mark Kiekhaefer is the pastor of Living Hope Church (EFCA) in Jefferson City, Missouri.

How have you experienced and learned to respond to grief? What have you learned from that process? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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