Faith: The One Thing Stronger Than Our Suffering

What does it mean to lament? This is no shallow emotion; it comes from the very depth of one’s being. It is a sorrow, a grief so profound that it can only be expressed with moans and inarticulate groanings that go beyond even our tears. This is the tone of the Book of Lamentations. It is a collection of five poems expressing the anguish of the Jewish people as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

Anyone who has experienced an inexpressible loss in their lives knows these feelings that can be rightfully called, lamentations. It is to be overwhelmed by the reality of a particular suffering. When such depth of sorrow comes to us there are no words capacious enough to encompass, or to express the breadth and depth of our grief. Such deep emotions are the result of an inner recognition that we are indeed small and that there are kinds of suffering that are beyond our ability to understand. We sense our utter powerlessness in the presence of such things.

There is one thing, though, that is stronger than even this kind of suffering. It is our faith. Though the darkness surrounds us, we know that God is God, and that he is not indifferent to our suffering. Indeed he knows it intimately. Remember the words of Jesus from the cross when he groaned and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34) When we are overwhelmed by inexplicable suffering and moan and cry out with inarticulate lamentation, Jesus understands. And it is he who rushes to our side. It is his Spirit who begins to fill the great hole in our own spirits.

This is what we see happening here in this passage from Lamentations. These words: “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him,” come in the middle of an incredibly long description of suffering. Though these words are brief in the whole context of the third poem in the Book of Lamentations, they are surprising and compelling words of hope. They express a faith in God’s ultimate and infinite mercy. This hope is hard-won. It is not easy, and it is precarious, being so submerged in the midst of such great suffering, but it is hope nonetheless. This hope has only one source, faith. And this faith is a free and generous gift from God. It is the proof of his fidelity toward us. As we have seen, even Jesus knew the depth of lamentation, but his last words are a profound statement of faith in the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) This, in the fullness of our faith, can be our prayer in the midst of our suffering too. Yes, there are things that we experience that are larger than ourselves and beyond all human understanding. But we are not alone. Emmanuel, God is with us. This is especially true in the times of our greatest suffering.

Lord, increase my faith in you. Help me to pray, as Jesus did, when I experience great distress and suffering: Father, I am overwhelmed, I commend my spirit and all that I do not understand, into your hands. In you alone is my hope. Be my comfort. Let me rest a while in your loving arms. Give me the strength to endure and to grow from this present suffering. Jesus, in your most holy name, I pray. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.