By Rev. British L. Hyrams
Please read Lamentations 3 (slowly and deliberately). If you are familiar with this text already, please read it in another translation in order to see it with fresh eyes. This chapter is not for the faint of heart and may invoke feelings of “defensiveness”, “doubt’, or even “dread”. The book of Lamentations is replete with “weeping and moaning’ over the desolation and exile of Israel along with the destruction to the temple that has occurred. Believe it or not, chapter 3 is the high point of the book; where hope resides.
The “strong man” (perhaps Jeremiah) speaking in this chapter tells a tale of woe and misery that is second to none. Many times when we hear such extreme events, we respond by comparing our own experiences, usually looking to “one up”, the speaker. Or perhaps we assume that what the person recounts is “embellished”. It takes discipline to listen, to read for true empathy.
The first-person speaker attributes physical, mental, and spiritual suffering as acts of the wrath of God, ultimately in response to repeated covenant-breaking behavior by the Israelites. While not a surprising claim for a text rooted in the Old Testament, it is uncomfortable and even disturbing to fathom! A God who intentionally inflicts suffering doesn’t fit well with the view we want to have of God when it comes to what happens to us personally (it might be acceptable for our enemies). Furthermore, it is difficult to distinguish the severity of the pain inflicted by God as opposed to that imparted by the speaker’s enemies. This human being is certainly pressed on every side! The situation is dire. Whatever the facts of the writer’s pain and suffering may be, the writer of this lament FEELS the depth of emotions tied to the circumstances.
Where is the hope in the midst of this author’s lament? Nestled between the graphic details of the hardships experienced by the author and the community there are two interludes of hope. In verses 20-24 the writer has a moment of remembrance! From the depths of their being, by the power of the Spirit, through miracle and mystery, this moment of clarity and assurance arises:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left. The Message
While the pain of the current situation is real, “the strong man” (what irony!) is anchored in the knowledge that God has not and God will not abandon the people of God. The author of this chapter of extreme lament is sure of these two things (verses 31-33): (1) The Lord won’t reject them forever and (2) the Lord will have compassion according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love.
The small glimmer of light, the thread of hope that sustains in the midst of lament is that God is who God says God is! Steadfast. Merciful.
Prayer: Holy One, in times that seem to reveal no hope, you are our hope. Thank you for your faithfulness to us, especially when we are not faithful to you. Lord Jesus, save us from our enemies; save us from ourselves. Holy Spirit, help us daily to turn from disobedience and rebellion to renewal and redemption. Amen.
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