We live in a world with untold amounts of pain from war, famine, and oppression. But our worship sometimes leaves little room for emotions of lament. In The Message of Lamentations (IVP Academic), Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament scholar and international ministries director for Langham Partnership International, introduces readers to one of the Bible’s most heartbreaking, poetic, and neglected books. CT editor at large Rob Moll interviewed Wright about the role of Lamentations in understanding—and protesting—human suffering.
What is the likely setting in which Lamentations was written?
Almost certainly, it is the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. It was the most traumatic moment in Israel’s Old Testament history. The writer paints a portrait of utter devastation and appalling suffering: starvation, disease, slaughter, rape, scavenging, looting, and the desecration of holy things.
Unlike in Job and many of the Psalms, God says nothing to the writer of Lamentations. What should we make of his silence?
One commentator, Kathleen O’Connor, calls God’s silence “inspired.” This resonates on three levels. First, God allows the suffering people to have their full say. He listens, without interrupting to comfort or correct. Second, the Prophets had already explained that this would happen and why. And third, although God does not speak as a character in the book, he speaks by including it in his Word, within the canon of Scripture.
How does Lamentations differ from Job or the Psalms?
Job’s suffering is clearly undeserved. In the Psalms, suffering is sometimes the result of sin, sometimes the result of wickedness of enemies, and ...1