Question: "What is a lament in the Bible?"

Answer: To lament is to express deep regret, grief, or sorrow. We can lament through words or actions. Lamenting is a common theme in the Bible. In fact, there is an Old Testament book named Lamentations.

The Bible records several reasons why people lament. We lament when we grieve over the loss of someone or something dear to us (Luke 8:52). Grief is a common human experience, and Jesus entered into that grief with us when He was on the earth. When Lazarus died, his sisters Mary and Martha grieved, and their friends lamented over this loss (John 11:17–37). Jesus’ heart was touched to such an extent that He wept with them (John 11:35).

We lament in prayer when our hearts are broken. Many of the psalms are songs of lament, expressing a range of emotions when the authors were going through sorrowful times. Psalm 130:1 says, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” Jesus also demonstrated this type of lamentation when He cried out to the Father the night before His crucifixion: “Abba, Father . . . all things are possible for you. Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).

We lament when we feel helpless in our situations. Some people turn their fearful laments into complaint; Christians should turn their fearful laments into prayer. Psalm 6:3 is a good example of this type of lament: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, LORD, how long?” King Jehoshaphat demonstrated this kind of lamentation when mighty armies rose up against Israel and he did not know what to do. He called Israel together and led them in a national cry to the Lord: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). Jehoshaphat put words to his heart’s lament and directed them toward the only One who could help. The Lord honored that lament and defeated their enemies for them (verse 22).

The Bible instructs us to lament over our sin. This kind of lamentation is associated with repentance (Matthew 3:8; Acts 2:38; James 5:1). Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Repentance is agreeing with God about how bad our sin is and purposing to turn away from it. When we see our sin the way God does, we lament over it. We grieve at the evil arising in our own hearts and cry out to God to change us. Those who never lament over their own sin have not understood its power to destroy them, nor can they fully appreciate a Savior (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In an unexpected twist, the Bible records that God also laments over the sin and disobedience of His people (Ezekiel 33:11). He laments the destruction of His perfect world and the ongoing rebellion that keeps it in bondage to the enemy. The book of Jeremiah in particular records God’s sorrow over the desolation of His chosen land, Israel. Jeremiah 12:10–11 says, “Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field; they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland. It will be made a wasteland, parched and desolate before me; the whole land will be laid waste because there is no one who cares.”

Genesis 6:6 records that “the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” The idea in this verse is that God lamented at what His prize creation had become. God’s lamentations show us that He has deep feelings of sorrow when evil reigns unchecked. When wickedness in the world and within ourselves causes us to lament as God does, we are on our way to becoming wise (Proverbs 8:13).