Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: A Book Review

How long, O Lord, how long! Where are You? Why don’t You help me? Why don’t you answer my prayers? Why do I still struggle with this after all these years?

How long, O Lord? How long can this go on? When will this be over? When will this stop affecting my family?

Lord, why so much suffering? Why? Why so much pain and sickness and death among those I love and care about?

Over the last couple of months these words have come out of my mouth as I have struggled to process all that is going in my own life and in the world around me. So much suffering and so much sin. Looking around, all is not as it should be. How are we to think about these things?

Back in the fall while attending a virtual counseling conference, I bought the book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop. Like many of the books I buy, it sat on my desk in a growing stack waiting to be read – until one day a friend called it to my attention again. I decided to dust it off and start reading. That was one of the best reading choices I have made in a while. To read of people in the Bible who have cried out with similar words in the midst of much worse circumstances than me has brought comfort and hope. The truths reviewed in this book have been a balm to my soul.

The author began a personal journey of lament as he faced his own deep sorrow, the loss of his stillborn daughter. To cry, the author says, is human, but to lament is Christian (25-26). Over and over, he emphasizes the theme that lament is how we live in the tension between a hard, painful life and a good, sovereign God. And as he has traveled down this pathway of lament, he has found that it leads to an unending supply of grace and mercy. “Dark clouds may come, but divine mercy never ends.” (191)

The book is divided into three main sections. The Part 1 is entitled “Learning to Lament.” Here Vroegop walks the reader through the pattern of lament. Four key elements comprise biblical lament – an address to God, a complaint, a request, and an expression of trust and praise. For a simple way to remember, he uses the words: turn, complain, ask, and trust (29). The author teaches about each element of lament by focusing on a different psalm of lament. In four chapters, he walks the reader through Psalm 77, Psalm 10, Psalm 22, and Psalm 13.

I personally was challenged by these chapters. I was reminded how often I do not cry to God from the heart but simply “wail upon my bed.” (Hos. 7:14) I was convicted that often I don’t ask boldly for help because in my unbelief I don’t really expect God to do anything. Finally, the author’s discussion of Psalm 13 reminded me that I must choose to trust based on the character of God. After voicing his complaints and requests, David confidently declares in Psalm 13, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

In Part 2 “Learning from Lamentations,” the author walks through Lamentations chapter by chapter. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” These haunting words begin a two-chapter description of the ravaging affects of sin. Like the ancient Jews, we too live in a world broken by sin. We have defied a holy God, and life is not as it should be. Moving on to chapter 3 of Lamentations, the author challenges us to find hope in the midst of devastation by calling to mind the truths we know about our God. Discussing chapter 4 of Lamentations, the author exhorts us to learn from lament. It is an opportunity to grow. If we are willing to take a look, suffering exposes the other things in which we tend to put our hope. He identifies four common tendencies: trusting in financial security, making people our saviors, craving cultural comfort, and idolizing spiritual leaders. Then he walks through the prayers of Lamentations 5, prayers for God, who reigns forever, to remember and restore Israel.

Finally, Part Three “Living with Lament” call the reader to personal and community lament.

Who is this book for? Are you walking through a season of sorrow, loss, and pain? I think this book will be a great comfort to you. God does not call you to gloss over your pain and pretend that the hope of the gospel removes all pain from life. Are you walking with a friend who is suffering? This book can equip you to love and minister more wisely. Are you at a point of relative ease and rest in your life right now? Sit down with this book, read, and begin to prepare your heart to respond well when suffering does come again.

Kim Anderson