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Inexpressible

Lord, see how I am in distress.
I am churning within;
my heart is broken,
for I have been very rebellious.
Outside, the sword takes the children;
inside, there is death.

People have heard me groaning,
but there is no one to comfort me.

For my groans are many,
and I am sick at heart.

– Lamentations 1:20-22; CSB

In her fascinating talk, Language Failing: The Reach of Lament, Ilit Ferber begins thus:

The cry of lament emerges from the abyss of profound mourning and sorrow, expressing the unbearable condition of loss. It is cried out in moments when the pain of loss overwhelms us with such intensity, that we seem utterly unable to express it in words, as if our language had completely broken down, revealing its inadequacy in the face of profound sorrow by disintegrating into nonverbal exclamations and disconsolate cries. We usually think of lament as an anguished response to deep loss and sorrow, expressed in primordial cries and shrieks, and also bursting forth in a vast array of elegies and other poems, biblical lamentations, songs and music.

It brings to mind Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in a key section dealing with suffering, eschatological glory, and the Spirit:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groaningsAnd he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. (Romans 8:26–27; NET; emphasis mine).

In the fallenness, frailty and finitude of our lives, profound sorrow is to be expected and primordial cries is the only language we have in response. However, as Christians, Paul reminds us that because of our union in Christ, we live our lives in the Spirit, who “intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings [στεναγμοῖς ἀλαλήτοις]”, so that despite our weakness [ἀσθενείᾳ]—our groanings, yearnings, laments are “translated” by the Spirit and brought before the Father’s throne, who responds to our groans according to His will (8:27).

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