Summary: Great is Thy Faithfulness
GREAT IS THEY FAITHFULNESS (LAMENTATIONS 3)
One of the 20th century's most loved hymns and even has a Wikipedia entry. Thomas Chisholm wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as a testament to God’s faithfulness through his very ordinary life. Born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky, Chisholm became a Christian when he was twenty-seven and entered the ministry when he was thirty-six, though poor health forced him to retire after just one year. During the rest of his life, Chisholm spent many years living in New Jersey and working as a life insurance agent. Still, even with a desk job, he wrote nearly 1,200 poems throughout his life, including several published hymns.
Chisholm explained toward the end of his life, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”
To see God’s faithfulness in times of faithlessness is a big leap of faith. Chapter three is the third of five funeral dirges by Jeremiah who was shocked, stunned and saddened by the failure, faithlessness and fall of Jerusalem. It was hard to see any good to come out of the exile. The tone of chapter one and two was doom to deliverance in the third chapter, from tragedy in the first two chapters to trust in chapter three.
What are some of the worst things that have saddened you lately? How can we ask the Lord to pull us out? Why must we have faith in the darkest hours of life?
Heed and Weep
1 I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. 2 He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; 3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. 4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. 6 He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. 7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. 8 Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. 9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. 10 Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, 11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. 12 He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. 13 He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink. 16 He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. 17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.
It is very hard for us to conceive of God as an angry, aggressive and even adversarial God. Miroslav Volf, a Christian theologian from Croatia who is the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University, used to reject the concept of God’s wrath. He thought that the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war:
“My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war (1992-94) in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”
(Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, Zondervan, pp. 138-139)
The first section (vv 1-17) details the Lord’s wrath (v 1), or the outburst of passion. It is the outpouring, overflow or onrush of passion. The word “wrath” is an extension of “eber,”or “beyond, the other side or the opposite side.” It is the spillover, the crossover, or the passover (Ex 12:12) effect. It is anger over and beyond, over the top, outside the norm and out of range. More than anyone could stand, suffer or stomach. More than anyone could envision, endure or be exposed to.