I love books, whether it’s reading them, talking about them, giving them as gifts, or even flipping through them at the library or bookstore. Books become a conversation partner stirring us to action or stretching our thinking. At any point, I’m reading (or researching) several books, so it’s easy for me to get excited about new books. But, having grown through Mark Vroegop’s preaching, serving under him as a staff member, and getting the chance to see this book develop, I’m especially excited to share with others what I think will be a very helpful gift to the Church. Here are my top 5 reasons (among others) to read Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.
We Desperately Need Lament
At the beginning of 2016, Mark Vroegop preached a nine-week series on lament at College Park Church. It taught many of us in our church a way of talking to God we didn’t know existed. It gave us the language to voice our pain, hurt, and frustration.
As the book’s subtitle suggests, part of the power behind the series was discovering lament as a vehicle to talk to God about raw emotions and conflicted thoughts rather than burying them or becoming bitter. Lament helped many of us take steps towards God rather than withdrawing from God during hard, unwanted circumstances. “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust” (28). In learning to lament we learn to entrust God with our cares and concerns.
The book equips the Church by teaching us about the neglected rhythm of lament. We know we should praise and thank God, we should confess sin, and we should bring needs to God, but for many, the idea that we should also talk to God about our own pain or the surrounding injustices is foreign. This idea raises many common questions answered within these pages. Is lament the same as venting or complaining? Is raw lament a sign of distrust or faith? Can we be honest with God about what we feel? What things should we lament? Where is God in my suffering? Is there any hope in hardship?
We need lament because it’s the way God’s people talk to Him in our pain, confusion, and brokenness. It’s the avenue of trusting in and turning to God with our hurts, knowing He alone can heal us and comfort us. If “lament is a road map to God’s grace” (140), then this book helps puts the roadmap in our hands and tells us how to use it.
It’s a Book to Read or Give to Sufferers
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy doesn’t focus on tough questions about evil or suffering—though it also doesn’t avoid them (see especially chapter 5). It doesn’t answer many of the “why” questions we have when the storms roll in. Instead, it shows us “who” matters even more than “why.” Theology books suggesting answers to the why questions and giving biblical rationale behind evil, pain, brokenness, and injustice are necessary and I’m thankful for them, but they’re rarely helpful to suffering people. This is a practical book you can give to people in pain.
That doesn’t mean it will help every single person, and it can’t provide a quick-fix speeding us through the process of sorrow and grief. But I think this book will be a balm for many because it provides easy on-ramps and ways to respond. It takes into account how weak and trembling we feel when in pain and it gives us clear, manageable baby-steps of faith.
This book not only tells us we can bring our complaints to God but we should do so, and it provides practical frameworks for doing so (such as the section “How to Complain the Right Way” on pages 52-54). It’s the kind of book pastors can give to their church members, and Christians can give to friends and family. Any sufferer wondering where to go and what to do with their frustrations, aches, and heartbreak will benefit from it. I’m always looking for that kind of book, not only for myself, but as a practical resource to share with others.
It’s Transparent and Personal
As he shares in the Introduction, this book began years ago with Mark’s own pain. His story, especially the loss of his daughter only a few days before her expected delivery, sparked his own discovery of the grace of lament. Because the book is birthed from pain rather than theory or even a sermon series, it’s transparent and personal from cover to cover.
This journey to discover lament began with his own pain, but as a pastor, he learned to lament with others. In these pages, you don’t learn about lament as a vague, general spiritual discipline but as an anchor steadying real people hammered by the heavy winds of life. You’ll read stories of sorrow and hardship from the people in his church, people with circumstances that might differ from your own, but whose pain will resonate with your own experience. You will discover the grace of lament not as an idea to consider but as a personal practice, tried and tested by others, meant to be lived out.
Having served under him as a church staff member for several years, I can share that Mark isn’t just a gifted preacher. The experience of some mega-churches having a gifted communicator with terrible people skills or distant from the average attendee has never been the case at College Park. Mark is both a preacher and a pastor, and that blend of gentle-shepherd and faithful-teacher shines through in his words full of both grace and truth.
He brings into the pulpit—and in this book, puts on paper—theology from Scripture beautifully married to the experience of living with people and knowing their sins, struggles, sorrows, hopes, and longings. He’s led us as a church by leaning into lament in his own life, in church prayer meetings, and in staff and elder meetings. He not only preached to us about how to lament, but he practiced it in front of us, with real tears and real pain as a loving pastor does.
This is important not just because it’s a testimony to Mark’s character—which should matter for an author’s credibility—but because it adds to the book. His familiarity with and wisdom on lament grew from being a pastor standing next to sufferers in their homes, our church, hospital rooms, cemeteries, and the many other hills a pastor walks along with his sheep. As a reader, we benefit from Mark’s pastoral experience and heart that bleeds onto the page. He writes with the personal tone and pastoral warmth of a friend sitting across from you, not the lecturer standing in front of you. He doesn’t ask you to deny or avoid the pain you’re in, but he points you to God in it. “Lament helps us dare to hope again, and again, and again” (112).
It’s Saturated with Scripture
Throughout this post, I’ve emphasized the practical nature of this book because I see that as where it sets itself apart from most other books on pain or suffering. There are immediate takeaways, baby steps of faith, concise and memorable statements to recall and reflect on, and clear guidance helping us learn to lament. But here, what’s really practical is also robustly theological. We find help by returning to Scripture, remembering who God is and all the promises we have in Him. “Hope springs from truth rehearsed” (119).
Each chapter takes us to a specific part of Scripture, primarily the Psalms and Lamentations. Through their writings, David and Jeremiah let us into their pain, hurt, frustration, and confusion. They teach us how to talk to God with honesty while we trust in God with hope. They give us the freedom and encouragement we can pour out our hearts to God, but they also model what it looks like.
While the book teaches us how we might respond in lament, it’s just as much about who God is and what we need to remember about him while we lament. Though through trials and sorrows it might seem like God has changed or hidden Himself from us, behind these Dark Clouds God is ready to pour out Deep Mercy. He is still there and He is still the same: sovereign over all, steadfast in love, near to the brokenhearted, fully aware and ever present. “Lament helps us interpret pain through the lens of God’s character and his ultimate mercy. The power of lament is the opportunity to express our sorrow we feel while also anchoring our hearts in the truth we believe” (119).