Summary: How could God have let this happen? How can we speak to God of what has happened? How can we respond to the need before us?
Lamentations 2:11-13, 18-19; 3:19-23, 40-42, 46-57
The Lamentations were written by someone, probably Jeremiah, who observed the devastation of Jerusalem following the Babylonian invasion in 586 BC. Jerusalem was literally leveled. The temple was destroyed. Anybody who was anybody was carried off into exile. Everybody else was either killed or left amidst poverty and ruins.
Parts of the Lamentations almost could have been written by someone observing the devastation of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
The Hebrew title of the Book of Lamentations is ‘ekah, which means “how.” Most of the books of the Old Testament are titled according to the first word of the book. In the Book of Lamentations, “how”—an exclamation of dismay—is the first word of the first chapter, “How deserted lies the city…” (1:1), and the first word of the second chapter, “How the Lord has covered the Daughter of Zion with the cloud of his anger… (2:1), and the first word of the fourth chapter, “How the gold has lost its luster…” (4:1).
The word “how” was also the first word on many of our tongues as we saw news accounts of New Orleans, but our dismay frequently is expressed in the form of questions: How could God have let this happen? How can we speak to God of what has happened? How can we respond to the need before us?
First how question: How could God have let this happen?
It’s an appropriate question. After all, our God is the maker of heaven and earth. He is sovereign. He is in charge. Nothing happens without his knowledge. Nothing happens without his consent. If he did not make it happen, he allowed it to happen.
It can be tempting in a situation like this either to blame God or to defend God. I will seek to do neither. I don’t have the answer to how God could have let this happen, but there are several possibilities.
1—We live in a fallen creation. Because of that, humans are prone to sin. Because of that, animals face brutal competition for survival. Because of that, the earth itself convulses with natural processes that bring life and bring destruction.
The Bible proclaims that God is the one who opens his hand to satisfy every living thing and witnesses to his power and willingness to intervene in natural processes for his purposes. But God created this world in freedom, and he honors that freedom even in our brokenness. He promises to uphold those who fall and lift up those who are bowed down (Psalm 145:14). He doesn’t promise that there will be no hazards to make us fall or burdens to bow us down.
2—Sin has consequences, even as water flows downhill. Water doesn’t think about going down hill; it doesn’t need to be encouraged; it just does it. It’s the same way with sin. Sin doesn’t think about it; it doesn’t have to be encouraged; it just has consequences.
What human arrogance led us to build a major city below sea level in a hurricane prone region?
What human neglect led us to ignore engineers’ warnings that the earthen levees that protected New Orleans from being reclaimed by the Gulf of Mexico were inadequate and bound to fail eventually?