Lamentations is a depressing little book, at least on first glance. It’s composed of 5 poems of mourning that were once part of the book of Jeremiah, but were then isolated so they’d be easier to read in public. Traditionally, the Jewish people read Lamentations each year on Tish B’av, a fast day commemorating the destructions of the temple in 586 BC and 70 AD.
The first poem speaks of sorrow, weeping, misery, and desolation that has come upon Israel. Jeremiah describes the Lord as righteous for bringing such punishment to those who rebelled. The second poem is about the Lord fighting against Israel as an enemy. As a result, there is weeping, misery, and no comfort.
The fourth poem recounts more horrors that happened because of Israel’s sin. It talks about persecutions and punishment brought on them by the anger of the Lord. The fifth poem cries out to God to remember His people, recounting the punishments they’ve already suffered for their iniquities. It ends by talking about God forgetting and rejecting Israel, begging Him not to do so forever.
We now know that God answered this last prayer. He didn’t forget His people or cast them off forever. In fact, God the Father sent God the Son to die in our place and redeem us. The Word became flesh and brought about reconciliation between God and man as our Passover sacrifice.
Even without this perspective, though, Jeremiah was able to have a surprisingly hopeful outlook in the midst of incredibly difficult situations. In the third poem, nestled right in the middle of Lamentations, we find a determination to continue believing in the Lord’s goodness no matter what comes. That’s an outlook we would all do well to imitate.
A Different Perspective On Trials
The third poem opens with a personal complaint: “I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” For the first 20 lines, Jeremiah continues to detail the calamities brought about by the Lord’s displeasure. There’s darkness, bitterness, attacks, derision, and affliction. He feels that his soul and expectation have perished (Lam. 3:1-20). Then he says something remarkable considering his circumstances:
This I recall to my mind; therefore have I hope. It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:21-23, WEB)
This man whose world was falling apart around him had hope in Yahweh’s kindness, compassion, and faithfulness. And we can’t even handle getting stuck in traffic for 10 minutes or hearing someone express a political opinion we disagree with without feeling personally victimized. Jeremiah might seem unrealistically optimistic, but we’re the ones with a skewed perspective.
Holding On To Faith
Yahweh is my portion, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him. Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh. (Jer. 3:24-26, WEB)
Patience and hope are vital aspects of a faithful life. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, KJV). If you only believe when things are going well and you can see how God is working then you don’t really have faith. Faith is holding on when you can’t see what you’re waiting for. It’s maintaining your belief in God even when you don’t feel Him moving. We cannot afford to lose hope or get impatient no matter how long it takes for God to respond.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silence, because he has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. Let him give his cheek to him who strikes him; let him be filled full with reproach. (Lam. 3:27-30, WEB)
Christians are promised a life of suffering. That’s something we rarely talk about in the American churches, but it’s something many of our brethren in the rest of the world experience as a daily reality. We’re even told in scripture that we were called for the purpose of enduring suffering, following in Jesus’s footsteps (1 Pet. 2:19-25). We need to resolve never to give up our faith and hope when trials come.
Participating in Christ’s Sufferings
Trials give us the chance to participate in Jesus Christ’s sufferings. They also act as a teaching tool. God doesn’t allow bad things to happen because He’s vindictive or enjoy’s crushing us. His goal is always to lead people to repentance and a deeper relationship with Him.
For the Lord will not cast off forever. For though he cause grief, yet he will have compassion according to the multitude of his loving kindnesses. For he does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. To crush under foot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord doesn’t approve. (Lam. 3:31-36, WEB)
God’s not in the habit of torturing people. He does, however, let us experience the consequences of living in a fallen, sinful world. That includes the consequences of our own sin if we, like the people of Jeremiah’s time, turn our backs on Yahweh. When we return to Him, He offers grace to take away the eternal consequences of sin and in many cases he also extends mercy to alleviate our suffering here on earth.
Doesn’t evil and good come out of the mouth of the Most High? Why does a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh. Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in the heavens. (Lam. 3:38-41, WEB)
Examine Your Own Hearts
Jeremiah’s reminder to search our hearts is always relevant, but especially so as we get closer to Passover (which is only 4 weeks away as I’m writing this). In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives us several reminders to get ready for this holy day through self-examination and repentance, just like Jeremiah talked about in Lamentations (1 Cor. 11:26-29).
Purge out the old yeast, that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old yeast, neither with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:7-8, WEB)
The only way for human beings to become spiritually clean is through Christ’s sacrifice. Our role in this is simply to recognize when we need washed and turn to Him. Even after we’re saved, we can stray away from following Christ the way we ought to, and we need to keep coming back. Passover acts as a yearly reminder of the need to search our hearts. It also gives us a chance to ask God to search us as well and to show us what He finds.
Our hardships are meant to bring us closer to God, just as ancient Israel’s punishments were designed to turn her back to true worship. We would do well to follow Jeremiah’s example of clinging to hope and looking steadfastly to God through all our dark times, confident that the Lord’s mercy and loving kindness will bring us through our trials and into a deeper relationship with Him.
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