A couple of days ago I posted an introduction to Lamentations and explored some of the ways Israel’s covenant resulted in their exile. As I see it, God was so concerned for his own glory being enjoyed by the nations and his people that he did not tolerate his people’s rejection. In exile he shows his people the dire consequences of sin and in return he reminds them of the joy of salvation.
This may seem cruel and unnecessary but it is not my intention to explore this nature of covenant relationship in this post. If someone requests it, I might have the discussion at a later time.
What I do want to share is the ways I see Lamentations impacting the Christian today.
I’ve spent a few days in this book and have found it very refreshing to my soul.
Alone among the many voices of lamentation, the third chapter immediately struck me for it’s unique voice:
I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
These words born of suffering, from a people trapped in a foreign land, speak of a faith in God transcending the angst for things to be well. By this I mean this believer did not need to imagine this was the devil’s doing. He seems fully aware that his circumstance is in the hand of God.
I am frequently frustrated when Christians baulk at this notion. It’s not uncommon to hear Christians pray for the defeat of Satan in their lives, who is attributed as being responsible for these times of darkness. The mourner in this song has no such doubt. He is certain that his predicament is God’s doing. Today, someone might attribute God to the light side of the force or te good guy in a movie. Someone might pray with grandiose fervor about the great revival God is going to spark, or the liberal distribution of signs and wonders on the earth–healings, miracles, conversions.
However, based on the experience of this mourner in Babylon, we are invited to pray to the God who “brought me into darkness without any light”. For this man, the great hardship of suffering, of starvation and death (Lamentations 3:4-5) were every bit ‘signs’ from God.
Now, it is clear in Scripture that God shows real, tangible kindnesses to his children on the earth. Jesus tells a story, likening God to a good father who, like a good father gives good things to his children (Matthew 7:7-11). Indeed, to those who walk close with Jesus and do his will he gives the extravagant promise that he will give them anything they want (John 15:7).
Nevertheless, the mourner in Babylon knows better than to imagine God as some cosmic genie, granting wishes and running to and fro for the believer.
Personally, I like to think his experience is one I can share.
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the LORD.”
Perhaps someone might want to attribute these words to an unbeliever. Indeed, might they not be more comfortable coming from the lips of one who was undergoing conversion? “Yes! Of course you feel that way, it is because God is pursuing you.” There may have been a time when I would have read such passages this way.
But then I began to grasp what this singer was expressing.
My journey through the first two years of Bible college was rough at best. Didn’t get off to a good start with my peerage and had a lot of expectations which were unfulfilled. I though I’d find something that wasn’t offered there.
The wounds in my soul didn’t heal as I’d wanted them to. They festered and became crippling to me. Be it my perception of the self as shaped by others, or my relationships with others reacting against what I hated in myself I was miserable. I lost weight. I hardly slept or ate and I wept into my hands each night begging God to leave me alone.
Spurning worship and fellowship I tried to escape to the internet. And everyone knows where that can lead.
I shared the Exile song: “My endurance has perished, so has my hope from the Lord”
Like the Exile I do not think this was outside God’s plan or his doing. I am still frustrated about some of the ways I think I was let down. I am especially angered by and ashamed of myself in remembrance of those times. I was like a brutish beast, arrogant and bitter (Psalm 73:21-22).
In this manner I can share the Exile’s song.
But he has something far more to teach me.
How did he, and indeed how did the whole nation of people who sung this song, find resolution and peace in their angst?
After expressing the depths of his grief, telling what God had done to him and his people, the Exile calls to God:
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
Remember what I remember, feel what I feel.
I don’t know if I’ve ever asked God to do that. Perhaps I’ve asked God to make me feel more comfortable, begging him to take away some pain or sin or struggle. I have not, however, invited him to share that pain.
On one level I think my soul would be satisfied knowing that my cry is heard. It is indeed a beautiful and comforting notion. However this is a total betrayal of who God is.
I might as well speak to a wall or a stone statue, it would derive the same small comfort. Needless to say that is sometimes the level of my spirituality but the Exile takes my mind from that shallow pool into real depths.
In his seeking for comfort, he affirms:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Does it not intrigue you, how affirming these truths can restore hope?
He speaks of the unfailing love of God with unending mercy and constant faithfulness. Is this not totally untrue? The Exile has seen mothers eat their own children, princes and kings led away for slaughter and the great city of Jerusalem ransacked. How in the world is God’s love unceasing? What is God being faithful to, in the midst of this?
Well, God is being faithful to the covenant. In Deuteronomy 28 the people of Israel agreed to certain blessings and curses based on whether they feared God or not. Steadfast love here is God’s pursuit of his people through the terms and conditions of the covenant. This shows God to be totally righteous in all he does, choosing the pursue the relationship with his people according to the parameters they agreed to.
God, through the Exile, brings his people back to himself. In this way he is being loving, faithful and merciful. It might me likened to the way the staff in an emergency room tear off clothes and break ribs in order to get a heart beating again.
The steadfast love of the Lord is unceasing because he has not abandoned the people to their sins. His renewing mercies pave the way for their redemption and his great faithfulness meant he wouldn’t let his sinful people go.
The steadfast love of the Lord is unceasing because he would not let me go when I was ready to reject him. His renewing mercies carried me safely through dark nights when I wanted to cause great harm. His great faithfulness kept forming me through that crucible into a vessel for his Spirit.
And when it is all said and done, my soul rejoices with the Exile who praises:
“The Lord is my portion and I will hope in him”
Hope, for the Exile at least, was derived not from the desire to see a situation or a circumstance change but from the sure knowledge that God was working in all these things for his purposes.
That is the lasting hope I want to learn from these ancient songs.
I’ll write more on these Lamentations soon.