Trusting God When You’re Confused By Him: A Study of Lamentations 3

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the practice of lament. It’s something we rarely discuss in modern Christianity, but it makes up more than 1/3 of the psalms and you can find lament throughout the rest of scripture as well. Instead of hiding their pain, people who lament take it to God in prayer. They turn to Him, bring their complaint in an honest, heartfelt way, ask boldly for help and then, equally boldly, choose to trust in God. I ended that first post about learning how to lament with a quote from my favorite passage in Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have 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. “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:21-24, all quotes from WEB translation)

This passage is lovely and hopeful, but it’s not the whole story of Jeremiah’s lament. It’s not even his concluding thought for this particular poem. Lament isn’t about convincing yourself to be happy. It’s about trusting God even when you’re not sure you want to. It’s about inviting Him to help you deal with hurt, loss, confusion, anger, and other complex, painful emotions. Hope is part of it, a key part, but there’s a lot more going on as well.

Feeling as If God Is Failing You

The third poem of Lamentations (each of the 5 chapters in this book is a separate poem) begins with the words, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” Unlike other poems in Lamentations, Jeremiah doesn’t start by talking about all of the Lord’s people and how their sufferings affect them. This is about him and what God has done to him, personally. Jeremiah begins this poem talking about how it feels to believe that God is targeting him in particular for intense suffering. Read more

Learning How To Lament

Do you ever feel like maybe God isn’t living up to His promises? That He has abandoned you? Isn’t answering your prayers? Or that He should have done something to fix things and hasn’t?

Those are the sorts of thoughts we often feel guilty for thinking. After all, being a “good Christian” involves trusting God (which we often assume means not questioning Him) all the time no matter what, right? And so we try to ignore these kinds of thoughts and bury them deep where they won’t offend God or make us look bad to the other people in our church. But is that how God wants us to handle our painful questions?

There’s a Biblical practice called lament that models how to deal with anguish, pain, grief, and confusion. People of faith in scripture didn’t bottle up, hide, or ignore these feelings. They took them to God, turning questions we mistakenly think of as a lack of faith (or as a reason to give up on God) into a prayer. Over 1/3 of the Psalms are laments — “a prayer for help coming out of pain” (“Biblical Laments: Prayer Out of Pain” by Michael D. Guinan). There’s also a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations. Lament is found throughout scripture, from prophets, to psalmists, to Jesus. Lament is a good and godly practice and, if we learn how to do it, lament can help us hold on to trusting God even when we can’t figure out what He’s up to.

Praying through a sorrowful mood

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer; in the night season, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation)

The feeling of abandonment and despair is one that David felt, most of us can sympathize with, and Jesus echoed on the cross (Matt. 27:46). We know God does not leave or forsake His faithful ones, but that doesn’t stop us from sometimes feeling as if we’ve been forsaken. Last week, we talked about moods of faith in the Psalms, specifically a confident, celebratory mood in Psalm 91. Here in Psalm 22 we get another mood — one that is equally valid for Christians and no less worthy of taking to God in prayer. Read more

Sheltering In The Almighty’s Shadow

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 91 quite a bit since the coronavirus became a world-wide concern. The rabbi at my Messianic congregation recently wrapped-up a six-part sermon series on this psalm, and none too soon since the very next week churches were asked to stop meeting. There are hospitals overwhelmed by patients, non-essential businesses being ordered to close, and “stay at home” orders coming from governments. It’s scary out there. But we don’t have to let fear take over our lives.

Psalm 91 contains some of the most stunning assurances of God’s care and protection in the Bible, and it’s a good reminder that we need not fear no matter how bad the things around us get. And things are going to get bad. None of us know when Jesus will return, but we do know we’re getting closer. As that time approaches, we were warned to expect “wars and rumors of wars … famines, plagues, and earthquakes” before the end comes (Matt. 24:6-8). None of what is happening now (or which has been happening for the past 2,000 years) should be a surprise for Bible-readers.

We’ve also been told how to handle it when things get bad. We should watch, be ready, pray, stay faithful, and fear not. Easier said than done, though, especially in these times when fear and panic are running rampant. One way to keep ourselves from getting swept up in unfruitful anxiety is by holding onto the promises in God’s word, like those found in Psalm 91.

God’s Power To Deliver

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, all quotes from WEB)

Hebrew words often have a variety of meanings. The one translated “dwell” (H3427, yashab) can also mean remain, abide, inhabit, and marry. It’s that last one that seems out of place to us English speakers. How can marriage and dwelling mean the same thing? But if you think of marrying someone as giving a dwelling to them it starts to seem a little less unusual (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon). The connection also makes sense as part of the recurring imagery of the Lord marrying His people and providing dwellings for them (Matt. 22:2; John 14:1-3).

This place spoken of in the psalm is a secret or “covered, hidden” location (H5643, sether) that belong to the Most High God. Dwelling here lets you rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Using these names helps remind us that God has all power and is perfectly capable of living up to the expectations the psalmist will speak of in the lines to follow. In addition, use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, demonstrates the closeness of relationship the psalmist has with Him and reminds us that He is the I AM who delivered Israel (Ex. 3:14-15). Read more

Even If You Don’t: Holding On To Hope In Dark Times

We know God can do anything. So how do you react when He doesn’t do something that you beg him to? When your loved one isn’t healed? When your heartbreak feels unbearable and then something else piles on top of that? When you just don’t know how to go on, yet you have to anyway?

I’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally, especially over the past few weeks but really for a few months now. And I feel like God has thrown me some songs as “lifelines” in this time. First it was “I Am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe and more recently it was “Even If” by MercyMe.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

I didn’t much want to sing this when it popped into my head. Actually, I couldn’t at first since all I remembered was the “But even if you don’t” line. But I looked the song up, grasping for some hope to anchor my soul, and after playing through it a few times I could breath and pray again. I’ll admit, though, that there was still a part of me crying out, “Why?” when I thought about Him choosing not to take away the sorrow and hurt. And it’s okay to do that. As my counselor said, God is big enough to handle it when His kids are frustrated with Him.

Hope is one of the key things that gets us through the times when we’re frustrated with God and don’t understand what He’s doing. And it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough. Paul tells us “faith, hope and love remain”  (1 Cor. 13:13, WEB). They’re all three virtues that aren’t going away, but we talk about faith and love a whole lot more than hope. Which is a shame, because hope is something that’s very much needed in this world. Read more

Gift of Mortality

We tend to approach death with a kind of horror, even though we know that it is not permanent (1 Thes. 4:13-18). It is natural to value life, to not want to die and to not want to lose the people we love. I think much of our longing to live forever comes from a desire God has given us to become part of his family. But sometimes I hear people say they want to live forever, and they mean an indefinite extension of our human lives here on the earth.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to live with myself the way I am now for that long.

Elves leaving Middle Earth, from The Lord of The Rings

When I think about the idea of immortality or living a really long time as a human, it makes me think of Tolkein’s elves in Middle Earth. Unless something interferes (they can be killed and they can fade away with grief) they’ll live forever. One of the things I find most interesting is that in The Silmarillion, the immortality of the elves is described as a sorrow and death is presented as a gift given to men.

the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it, and depart soon whither the Elves know not. Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful. For the Elves die not till tile world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return. But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.

Sown in Weakness

Death became something that every human being must face as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. I wonder, however, if after the fall mortality might have been as much a gift as a curse. Yes, death is a penalty associated with disobedience to God and it is an enemy that will be conquered in the future. But the absence of death in our fallen state would not have been a kindness.

Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. (1 Cor. 15:36-37)"Gift of Mortality" a blog post by marissabaker.wordpress.com

We are “bare grain,” as the KJV says, which after it dies to this existence will spring up into the far more glorious body that God gives us. Thank God that immortality is not give not us as we are now — corrupted, dishonored, weak, and natural. Living like this forever would not be a gift. We cannot have eternal life as we are now, nor would we want to. We need to be changed first.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:53-54).