Following the stillborn death of his daughter Sylvia in 2004, Pastor Mark Vroegop experienced deep sorrow for the first time in his life. This period of sorrow started Vroegop on a lifelong journey in lament, which was a means of grace to his soul (p. 195). As he began to look at the world with new eyes, he understood that Christians do grieve during times of suffering great loss, but they grieve not as the unbeliever grieves. “Lament is how Christians grieve” (p. 21), and without it “we won’t know how to process pain” (p. 21). “Lament,” the author writes, “is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness” (p. 26).
Vroegop provides the layout for the book in the Introduction:
This book charts a course for our journey. It will take us through an exploration of four lament psalms and the one biblical book dedicated to the subject: Lamentations. In part 1, I’ll try to help you learn to lament. In part 2, I hope to show you what we learn from lament. And finally, in part 3, we’ll explore how to live with lament—both personally and with others (p. 22).
Time and again Vroegop articulates the four key elements of lament: turn [to God], present your complaint, ask in prayer (make a request), and trust the Lord (an expression of trust and/or praise) (p. 29). Turning to the Psalms, he notes how frequently the Psalmists asks two pertinent questions: Why and how? (pp. 43-54). In the first part of the book, Vroegop traces the four key elements, as well as two common questions through four lament psalms: psalms 77, 10, 22, and 13.
Part two is a delightful study of lament in the often neglected Old Testament book of Lamentations (pp. 89-153). The heart of this examination is the four truths upon which Jeremiah anchored his soul and is drawn from 3:22-33 (pp. 112-119): God’s mercy never ends; waiting is not a waste; the final word has not been spoken; and God is always good.
Part three is the application section of Dark Clouds. Vroegop writes the following:
In part 3 we are going to explore ways lament can be practiced from a personal or corporate perspective. We are going to move from learning to lament and learning from lament toward learning how to live with lament (p. 158).
Here we are told that “lament helps us embrace two truths at the same time: hard is hard; hard is not bad” (p. 184).
The book provides four useful appendixes, including one identifying the psalms of lament by category, a bibliography, a general index, and a scripture index. These, along with the footnotes, are unusual but valuable features in a popular work such as Dark Clouds.
The only portion of the book in which I had difficulty were examples that he gave of a prayer gathering with other pastors in which one pastor “called on God with an authority that was strangely refreshing” (p. 57). He was attracted to such bold authority when calling on God and transferred this attraction to the Psalms. I believe at this point Vroegop is confusing biblical confidence with questionable boldness that demands God to act, which I believe transcends confidence. No one, including the biblical authors, dare command God (cf. pp. 60, 66 where he confuses confidence and boldness again). I also question a prayer meeting at his church for parents of wayward children to return to the Lord. And while the grief of some parents seemed to be eclipsed by the boldness of the prayers of others, there was no indication in the story that any of the prayers were answered. My point is not that we should not pray with confidence, but that we go a step too far when we boldly tell God what He should do. Perhaps this is not what Vroegop is implying, but this section struck me as a bit over the top.
At any rate, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is a valuable and accessible study of lament drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures. Many will be comforted by what is written here.
by Mark Vroegop (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 223 pp., paper, $11.69
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel