Summary: God is faithful through the worst calamaties of life. God's love always exceeds his judgment. In the midst of tragedy, we can look to him for hope. While sorrow may last the night, joy comes in the morning.
God’s Unfailing Faithfulness
Have you ever had tragedy strike? Some of you have lost a loved one, a devastating blow for sure. Some may have lost a lot of money in the stock market. I know some who have lost a child or gone through a hurtful divorce or lost a job or experienced a reversal in their health. And as a nation, we remember 9/11—thousands of lives lost in a single day—along with other national tragedies. In a time of crisis, how will we react to God? How will our faith be affected? How will we go on?
The book of Lamentations is named after the word, “lament,” which means to “cry out loudly.” A lament is a cry out to God. Many of the psalms are laments, as are portions of practically every book of prophecy. But Lamentations is the only book of the Bible made up entirely of laments.
And these laments weren’t just hastily jotted down. We know by their careful poetic composition. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 contain laments of 22 verses each, with each verse beginning with a different consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Our chapter today, chapter 3, has 66 verses, because each set of three verses begins with the same consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For instance, the first three verses all begin with an “aleph,” our equivalent of an “A.” Then, the next three lines begin with a “Bet,” our equivalent of a “B”, and so forth. Alliteration helped people memorize scripture more easily, since few copies existed. So while this book is full of heavy emotion, it was carefully composed.
Lamentations doesn’t list an author, although most scholars believe it was written by the prophet Jeremiah, based on comments he makes in the book bearing his name. Jeremiah prophesied for over 40 years that if God’s people did not repent, God would allow foreign armies to conquer the land. And that is exactly what happened. In 586 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army came swooping in and conquered Jerusalem. It was a terrible time. The Babylonians destroyed homes, businesses, and the Temple itself. People starved. Pregnant women even resorted to cannibalism to survive. Jeremiah wrote Lamentations to help surviving Jews process the tragedy and know God was still there for them. Orthodox Jews still read the book annually on the anniversary of the fall of the Temple. And Catholics read it during the last three days of Holy Week.
It is hard for us to imagine, because we don’t live in a theocracy, a country where God is our king. But try to imagine that, not only is your homeland invaded, your house and workplace destroyed, but also your holiest site. Everything in your life is now gone or turned on its head. And any surviving citizens are enslaved by the conquering armies, most taken off to foreign lands. How the Jewish people must have mourned, not only for themselves but also for their nation!
Let us take a moment to mourn with Jeremiah and his people. We’re skipping over a lot of the sad parts, but listen to the pain of Jeremiah’s lament in verses 19 and 20: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” When we have been through a crisis, a tragedy, how often do we play it over and over again in our minds, trying to make sense of it, hoping for a different outcome? And yet all we do is cause our soul to be further and further downcast, falling into that sinking quicksand of depression, the grey fog, the dark night of the soul.
Verse 21 changes everything with the little word, “yet.” Sometimes it’s the tiny words in scripture that matter the most. “Yet” tells us something can change. “Yet” says these old familiar refrains can develop into something better. The sorrows of the night can give way to joys in the morning. After sunset comes the sunrise. After Crucifixion Friday and Silent Saturday comes Resurrection Sunday. Like the famous preacher said, “It may be Friday, but Sunday’s a coming!”
Jeremiah chooses to remember. And in making such a choice, he finds hope. Verse 21: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” What do you call to mind, Jeremiah? He remembers five things scattered over the next few verses. Perhaps he counts them off on his fingers:
1) “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” That word for “love” is in the plural. A better translation is “loving kindnesses” or “mercies.” The Hebrew word “hesed” encompasses God’s love, grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, truth, compassion, and faithfulness, all wrapped up in one. The word appears about 250 times across the Old Testament. You see, no matter how harsh God’s punishments, God’s love is always greater.