Life is tough sometimes—there is simply no way around it. Often, life hits us hard, and God seems distant. Many times, the counsel we receive from others, despite their best intentions, feels like the droning on of Job’s friends, or patronizing reassurances that “everything will turn out alright,” because… reasons. In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop shows us a better way of dealing with the challenges that bring sorrow into our lives. Speaking from his own experience, he delicately and winsomely walks us through the process of lament, a discipline that is seemingly neglected in much of our books and teaching today. Our affluent comforts often prevent us from needing to lament, but when these things are taken from us—whether by illness, loss of a job, the death of a loved one, cultural shifts, or a global pandemic—this discipline can help us respond in a biblical way.

Vroegop begins by both teaching us to lament and showing us how to do it. He defines lament as “a prayer in pain that turns to trust” (28). He briefly recounts the experience of his family’s loss of a child mere days before his wife was due to give birth. Many conversations with well-intentioned friends and hours reading well-written books seemed to fall short of providing real comfort. It was in this dark time that the words of the Psalms opened his eyes to a manner of prayer previously unrealized—lament. 

Cry Out to God

The author uses four Psalms to model the practice, which he breaks down into four steps. He begins with Psalm 77 and the step of crying out to God. Vroegop writes, “It takes faith to pray a lament” (31). The first part of lamenting is to continue to turn to God in prayer. This seems obvious when we are not embroiled in any particular struggle, but when the moment of pain hits, we often tend to close up and become silent. Thus, the first thing to remember is to fight this instinct by crying out to God. Vroegop encourages us to tell God about our struggles, ask him our questions, and talk to him about the gospel. Honestly talking to God about who he is, who we are, how we feel, and what is going on (all of which he knows already) helps us move toward him in our grief, rather than keeping him at arm’s length with our silence. With this first step, we are far from done, but crying out in faith takes us a long way from where we were.

Complain to God

After crying out to God, the next step is to complain. Honestly! Usually, we have negative thoughts about this word. However, when done in a humble heart with faith toward God, complaining is the next step in a Christian lament. Using Psalm 10 as a test case, Vroegop explains that this is not self-centered rage, but a right acknowledgement that things in this sin-cursed world are not what they ought to be. This world is not rightly reflecting the goodness of the God who made it, and it is right to point that out to God in humble confession. God knows our feelings already; he can handle hearing them stated out loud. This right type of complaining necessitates a knowledge of his character. He is a loving Father, and he wants us to be honest about what we feel. Thus, bring your complaints to him humbly and honestly. Using the Psalms in our lament (a helpful list of lament Psalms is included in an appendix) can help us do this with biblical language. 

Ask God to Act

The pain of suffering often comes from the feeling that God could intervene, yet he is not doing so. This feeling drives us to the next step of lament: asking God to act. Vroegop uses Psalm 22 to model this step. Knowing the character of God and understanding what is wrong, we turn to God with our requests. The pain and frustrations we feel remind us of how small we are, and our prayers of lament are exercises in depending upon him. We can pray with bold confidence for great things from God. We should ask him to act in accordance with his character, revealing who he is and making right the wrongs of this life. We do so both humbly and patiently, yet with bold confidence. As we make these requests, meditating on God’s character drives us toward trusting in him.

Express Trust and Hope

From Psalm 13, we move onto the last step in biblical lament: expressing trust and hope. Lament does not remove our problems, but it equips and shapes us to walk through them with a greater trust in God. As Vroegop states, “Promises don’t end the pain, but they do give it purpose” (80). It is here that we rest in the character of God, choosing to trust what we know to be true, even in the midst of great hurt and suffering. With his strength, we can endure with faithfulness the trials he has laid out before us. The beauty of lament is that it can get us to this place of trust while in the midst of the pain. This trust is rooted in what God has done, and what he will do, because of who he is. 

Learning From Lament

In part two of the book, Vroegop moves on to show what we learn from lament. Using the book of Lamentations as a guide, he points out that “lament is a journey through the shock and awe of pain” (96). This section is a deeper dive into the principles the author has touched on in part one, with a greater emphasis on what lament accomplishes in the heart and mind of the believer. Here, Vroegop demonstrates how lament brings into focus the realities of sin, the brokenness of this world, cultural evils and corruption, and even our own idols that we tend to trust in the place of God. Biblical lament gives us perspective on these and other things, shaping our posture toward God and his word. The author points out that lament is much like a muscle, and our ability to process grief in a godly way increases through exercise. The part-two journey through Lamentations “shows us that hope does not come from a change of circumstances. Rather, it comes from what you know to be true despite the situation in front of you. In other words, you live through suffering by what you believe, not by what you see or feel” (110). Vroegop closes his work with a small section on applying the practice, both individually and corporately. 

I highly recommend this book. This review is heavy on part one, because even if you only read the first 88 pages to get through this section, this book is well worth picking up. In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Vroegop does a wonderful job of equipping believers with a tool to help navigate the turbulent times of life. We all have endured, are enduring, or will endure painful times in this life. The discipline of lament can help us grow closer to God in these times. This book can help us biblically process the suffering to do just that. It has certainly changed the way I view life on this planet, and has done so in a way that makes the goodness of God so much sweeter.

Nathan Hunter (BA, Maranatha Baptist Bible College) serves as a Lay Elder of Oak Park Baptist Church.