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Do We Know What To Do With Our Pain and Grief?

A review of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy

Jessica Burke

As the coronavirus pandemic stretched across the globe, no one could ignore the reality of suffering. But recognizing the reality of suffering is not the same as knowing what to do with our pain, fear, and grief. 

Mark Vroegop has learned, both from his own life and the lives of those he pastors, that the best way to handle our suffering is to turn to God in lament. In his award-winning book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, he shares that after his daughter’s stillborn death, most people did not know how to meet his wife and him in their sadness. Even many of the books he read on grief fell short as they tried to explain the purpose of suffering and the stages of the grieving process, but didn’t tell him what to do with his pain and questions. As he walked a road he would have never chosen, he began to discover “an untapped reservoir of God’s grace” in lament and found that God was redeeming his suffering. Broken into three parts, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy teaches readers how to lament, what we learn from lament, and how to live with lament.

Psalms of lament

Vroegop teaches us how to lament by walking readers through several of the psalms of lament in part one. Most biblical laments have four key elements: an address to God, a complaint, a request, and an expression of trust and praise. We begin our lament by turning toward God in prayer. In our suffering, the resolve to pray is an act of faith. As we lament, there is a tension between the painful reality of our circumstances and who we know God to be. Humble, not angry, complaints reorient our thinking and help us see ourselves and our feelings as we ask God questions. But voicing our complaint is not the ending point. While it is helpful—and even biblical—it alone is not the goal. Our faith should enable us to move on from complaint to bold request. As we request something from God, we can do so in confidence because of who we know God to be.

Learning from Lamentations

But lament is not a magic formula that leads to the end of our suffering; instead, lament will help us draw closer to God as we are honest about our sorrows. Walking through Lamentations in part
two, Vroegop shows how lament is turning to God as we wrestle with our hardships. When we speak from our hearts, we can see the chasm between what we are believing and what is true. As we question God, lament helps us remember what God has done and who he is. Our suffering is a reminder of not just the fallen state of the world, but also our redemption through Christ. Lament helps us process pain while still resting in the truth of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and salvation. 

Practicing lament 

We should learn how to pray in lament, not just for our own souls, but also to minister to others. Part three offers many suggestions for practicing lament personally as well as leading others in lament corporately. In addition to identifying many passages of the Bible where we can study lament, Vroegop also names settings and circumstances where lament is helpful. While this part focuses on the more practical application of lament in the Christian life, it is a reminder that “under the dark clouds of brokenness, God offers mercy” through Jesus Christ. This part is also a reminder of the importance of Christian community. When someone is suffering and has weak faith, our ability to pray with them or for them will help strengthen their faith.

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy does not promise to resolve your problems. But it offers something so much greater than a formulaic quick fix. It offers a reminder of God’s goodness even in our worst times. Instead of lamenting, many choose to bottle their sadness and give God the silent treatment. They feel their prayers are unanswered. We need to learn that lament “invites us to pray boldly even when we are bruised badly.” There are many dark clouds in this life, but the wells of God’s mercy are indeed deep.

Jessica Burke is married to her high school sweetheart, and they have four children. The Burkes lived in Skopje, Macedonia, as missionaries for three years before moving to North Carolina where Jessica’s husband is a chaplain at a local jail and a pastor. A former public school teacher, Jessica home educates her children and teaches humanities to secondary students. Jessica has written for the Federalist, CiRCE, Story Warren, the Pillar Network, and elsewhere.