Lamentations 3:19-28

A child we knew described that time of day when the sun was setting as “darking”. Darking may be an apt description of what was going on in Jeremiah’s inner and outer worlds. Here is a sampler…..

He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in the light…..In dark places He has made me to dwell, like those who have long been dead. He has filled me with bitterness. He has made me drunk with wormwood. My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, my strength has perished, and also so has my hope from the Lord.

Admittedly, calling and context are important. Jeremiah was the watchman on the wall observing the rise of Babylon and the fall of Israel. He knew Israel’s demise was due to her idolatrous and unrepentant heart. Her sin was so grievous, her heart so hardened, God had arranged Babylon as her punishment. Jeremiah had the additional burden of knowing that God himself was in the middle of it all. Perhaps our circumstances are not as severe but even so there are valuable things to learn from Jeremiah. This passage reveals some of them. One, is his response to suffering, especially of the God-prescribed variety. How Jeremiah handles his relationship with God is worthy of our attention.

He begins by remaining in communication with God and emotionally open to him. He intentionally names his sufferings and asks God to remember each of them. He tells God outright that he will be unable to ever forget. However, he also demonstrates that emotional responses to hardships do not have to be our determinents. In other words he was not a victim of circumstance, however nightmarish they were. Jeremiah demonstrates that emotional responses must be subservient to our powers of choice.

Regardless of how we feel, we must choose how we think and what we say. Even in the midst of punishment, Jeremiah demonstrates this as he deliberately recalls God’s loving providence as the greater context of his life. So, in the presence of dire circumstance he says, with great intentionality (and I believe we can say in worship), “I have hope that….

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

I believe our love of black and white explanations generates many innacurate doctrines about God. Some cast Yahweh as the angry old testament sovereign with a hair trigger on judgement, ready to disperse suffering aplenty where it is warranted (which is mostly everywhere). Others are designed to get God off the hook for having any association, direct or indirect, with suffering. When the Bible has not gone to this trouble, why do we?  Could it be in our inability (or unwillingness?) to reconcile suffering with what we prefer the will of a good and sovereign God to be, that we fashion an image of Him more to our liking, then hire teachers who will represent this god to us – one bent on delivering us from all pain in this life?

The bottom line is that suffering is a mystery and a potential stumbling block unless we learn a crucial lesson from Jeremiah. From what I can read in scripture and from what I have experienced so far in life, I believe God is more often inclined to help us through suffering as opposed to delivering us from it. Yet, as God moves us through suffering we find we are brought to one primary question: Is it essential for to us to know why we suffer? Jeremiah may not answer our question directly but his commentary may keep our hearts attuned to God in the midst of the universal and unwanted mystery of suffering. Listen to his wisdom…..

For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men.

Jeremiah’s own heart is conflicted regarding the origins of suffering. In the first 18 verses of chapter 3 he clearly portrays God as the willing author of suffering. Then, In verses 31-33, not so much. So what is our application?

My takeaway is that God permits us, even encourages us, to vent our anguish directly to him. It is a big deal to sustain communication with God and remain emotionally honest with him. This is not an easy path but it leads us to that precious place where we are exhausted by, and have emptied ourselves of, our questions – a place where all that remains is our willingness (in our darking) to be quiet before Him.

At some point all the tears have been cried and there is simply nothing left to be prayed. It is here in the lull after our storm (which may last for days or for years) where we discover an ember is still burning which awaits the breath of God. In this place, many of our why’s remain unanswered but surprisingly, they are now less insistent. The heart which is left with nothing discovers it now has everything and can say with certainty….

                                                                 The Lord is my portion.

Father, nothing has been so vexing to my intellect as suffering. Even the modest amounts of it I have known have seemed like bitter wormwood to me and at times have caused me to stumble. Forgive me for viewing You or others as the authors of my pain. Teach my heart that in all circumstances, I live and move and have my being in you. You alone are my context and my sufficiency. Truly Lord, you are my all in all.



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