Lamenting to Hope

One-half million people are gone. Our nation has passed a milestone of immense tragedy: 500,000 dead from Covid-19. More US citizens have died in a the past year from this novel virus than died in WWI, WWII, and Vietnam combined. The devastation is unfathomable. And the per capita number of Americans who have perished from the virus is among the highest of any country in the world. Almost everyone has done better than us at mitigating the death toll than we have.

As a nation our response to this crisis has gone badly. There are many reasons why. One is that we politicized our virus response. Rather than uniting as a nation, we retreated to opposite corners. The result is a failure to mitigate the ravages of Covid-19 in the ways that other, more united countries were able to. The challenge now is to find a way, in the midst of the pandemic, to glue ourselves back together. But, sadly, I’m not optimistic about our capacity to work together as a nation.

There have been heroes in this pandemic. The international medical research community have worked a miracle to find vaccines so quickly, and medical personnel have been the battle-scarred soldiers who would not give up or give in. As a result, we seem to be on the downhill side of our viral national trauma. Much remains to be done, but we are learning how to protect ourselves.

The church, like many other American institutions, has been ravaged by this pandemic, while at the same time often responding faithfully with creative resiliency. Although our way of being church has been turned upside down, many congregations have expressed deep compassion in the midst of the suffering. One powerful tool of the church for helping heal our nation is lament. Lament for the suffering and unbelievable loss of lives. Lament for our failures as a nation.

Scripture has a deep tradition of lament. After all, there’s a whole book in the Bible called “Lamentations.” We have more psalms of lament than of any other psalm type. The crucifixion, at the heart of our faith, is a scene of grief. Lament is important; lament is necessary. In lament we recognize and declare the pain of our loss. We cannot heal from our grief unless we name it, and let it have its way with us. 

Our strong, independent natures may be reluctant to lament; it may feel like weakness. Yet that’s the point: lamenting is in fact a confession of the reality of our weakness in the face of tragic forces more powerful than we are. To lament is to confess our human frailty, our mortality, and our folly. Our American “can do” spirit may recoil against lament, as it feels like giving in to failure. Indeed, lamenting is recognition of failure in the sense of acknowledging what we could not fix, or even cope with. To lament in tragedy is simply to be honest with ourselves about our pain. 

Let us lament 500,000 dead Americans — and 2.5 million deaths worldwide from Covid. The trauma is overwhelming. And lament admits that reality, stands naked and helpless in front of it, weeping. 

Perhaps the reason we find so much lamenting in the Bible is that lament is an act of realism and an act of faith. To lament means recognizing our paralysis in the face of destruction that is beyond us. And lament winds up leading to the One who is bigger than we are, bigger than our devastation, and bigger than our grief. In lament we cast ourselves before God, who alone is our ultimate help and hope. Lament usually does not answer our “why” questions. It cannot make sense of all the pain, but lament puts the suffering in perspective: while the tragedy has overwhelmed us, we can live through it by God’s grace. Lamenting winds up leading us to affirm again our utter dependence of God and recognition that while we may not have noticed, God walked with us through the tragedy and is waiting for us on the other side with arms of comfort. Lament eventually leads to hope, and hope is what we need. But the path to real hope leads us first through lament.

* Photograph by pipp at

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