I could be a little melodramatic when I was a kid! I had a few buttons, and for whatever reason, a close friend of mine, Casey, knew which to push. And whether it was a comment made during kickball, some joke at my expense in our third grade class, or not asking me to go with a group of friends to 7-11, I would come home incensed. Fuming, I would tell mom all about it—what a jerk he was, how hurt I felt, etc. For some reason, she prioritized this over the work on her desk at the Department of Water and Power.
Listening to my rant, she offered appropriate advice on how to deal with people when they upset you—don’t let them get to you, tell them how you feel, take yourself to 7-11—and generally left me feeling better. Which was a perfect time to ask her if I could sleep over ant Casey’s that weekend.
Thankfully, Mom never said to me that I should grow up, learn what real sadness was about, and stop wasting her time at work.
The Book of Lamentations portrays what, in fact, a real depressing scenario looks like and its effect on a person’s emotions as they attempt to handle this overwhelming situation—Jerusalem’s destruction. Unlike me, this speaker understands true grief, and through this book demonstrates an early example of what we now know as the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.
The first of these five grief poems begins with the speaker reeling from Israel’s destruction. He is in denial about how Israel came to be destroyed (all that ignoring God’s words/laws, etc.) and instead suggests that Israel has been betrayed by friends (1:2). In her time of need, Israel apparently called out to ALL her lovers for support (1:2), which seems to be likening Israel to a promiscuous individual. Little odd to think of your country this way, but the speaker moves on to the list of horrors endured by Israel, which contains an account of the land being pillaged and God’s Temple being looted and then destroyed (1:10).
The end of this first poem touches on what would be the second stage: bargaining. There’s not much to this stage, however, as there is no quid pro quo. The speaker suggests that Zion is begging for help and no one is helping (17). There’s also the sense that now that Israel has suffered, please make others suffer too. So there’s not the traditional bargaining, but at least a sense of asking for something.
The second poem addresses anger. Here, the speaker lashes out at God’s wrath and his determination to destroy Israel (2:8). But like all good anger, it sometimes prevents you from seeing the other side of things, which in their case means acknowledging Israel’s part in bringing about their own destruction as the speaker urges the people to pray for mercy (2:17-19). This section is capped by reminding the lord that he’s been too harsh (2:20).
This anger gives way to depression in the third and fourth poems. He rattles off a lengthy laundry list of all the tragedy the Lord has inflicted. You can hear the depression when he relays, among other things, that the lord has made his skin and flesh grow old and broken his bones (3:4). The depressions ebbs a bit as the speaker turns to hope, for he feels God’s love (3: 22). He hopes God will get over his anger and repay the author’s tormentors (3:64). Then, after likening Israel’s punishment to Sodom and Gomorrah (4:6) (which seems a stretch, given that nothing survived that), the speaker blames the priests and prophets for screwing Israel (4:13). Yet earlier, it was Jerusalem who sinned (1:8). So which is it?
The fifth and final poem acknowledges acceptance for Israel’s situation. The speaker says that Israel gets it, they messed up (5:6-7), and hey, they’re suffering (5:8-11), but can you come through for us? Why HAVE you forsaken us? (5:21).
If you just finished telling someone that you messed up and how you messed up, do you have to ask why the situation is the way it is? Wouldn’t you understand why God has forsaken you? But perhaps God was just happy to have the speaker work through the emotions, for sometimes being a good parental figure means you just sit and listen without judgment, appreciating how one of your charges is able to demonstrate some level of understanding.