Summary: Through calamities and suffering we can learn about God’s judgement, about our own sin, and about God’s renewing power.
Lessons from Lamentations
Lamentations 3:1-3; 19-24; 40-42
For the past couple of weeks, we have been inundated with reports of the floods in the Midwest. The reports about Iowa are of special interest to Sue & me, since we come from there, so we perked up our ears when we heard names of places like:
• Iowa City where the Iowa River flooded some familiar U of I buildings such as Hancher Auditorium where we sometimes enjoyed theatre productions;
• Columbus Junction, a small town we know at the junction of the Iowa River and Cedar River, where a railroad bridge collapsed dropping the engine and several railroad cars 20 feet into the water;
• Mediapolis where a levee on the Iowa River broke and farm families had to leave everything and get out quickly;
• And then Hannibal, MO, Mark Twin’s home town which we have visited several times. When I was a teenager, I helped with a disaster clean-up crew after the Mississippi flooded.
It seems like our nation is getting hammered with unprecedented floods, tornadoes, and destructive fires. The images of massive flooding and forest fires make us shudder. These events cause us to wonder whose fault it is that rivers overflow like this? Did the Army Corp of Engineers fail to do their work properly? Is God unleashing all this misery? Should we blame ourselves for not paying more attention to the way we lives?
As usual, before going on vacation, we checked out several books from the library. Oddly enough, three out of the four had to do with calamities and suffering.
One was written by a Japanese woman, Toyo Suyemoto, about the experiences of her family out west during WWII when hundreds of Japanese people had to give up their jobs and properties to be hauled to remote areas in Calif., Utah, & Ark., where they were incarcerated for three years. It is hard to believe the hardships and indignities they suffered just because they were Japanese, many of whom were born here. In Suyemoto’s poetry I found these two short verses:
1. Grief chokes in my throat.
I cannot speak; tomorrow
Stretches far away.
2. Doubt haunts me: I ask,
Will there be another spring
To justify breath?
The book makes you wonder how one can find the strength to bear up in the midst of such disregard for human dignity. (I call to remembrance. 2007)
Another book was one I listened to on tape titled Nine Minutes Twenty Seconds about a commuter plane, Flight 529, that crashed in a Georgia hayfield in the late 90s because of a hairline crack in one of its propellers. The book provides a second-by-second countdown of the crash and then the excruciating, blow-by-blow account of the accident as the plane broke apart and about 30 people, most of whom survived, tried to escape through tangled wreckage, fire and smoke. Several died and others experienced excruciating pain and agony. Even though the propeller company accepted all responsibility, the descriptions of the raw physical and emotional pain of the victims are unforgettable.
The third book was written by a Youth for Christ leader in Sri Lanka about how to embrace suffering when ministering to the urban poor. The author has been in that ministry since 1976. This book helps to understand how suffering can bring us closer to God. He writes some thought-provoking words. For example, “If suffering helps us get closer to Jesus and be more effective in his service, then we will welcome it with joy.” (Ajith Fernando, The Call to Joy & Pain. 2007)
And then, it was time to prepare this message from the book of Lamentations, a book based on calamity and suffering. Take a look at the summary in your bulletin.
There are two significant events in Jewish history that Jews commemorate. Both influenced their understanding of God. Both impacted their understanding of themselves. One is the Exodus, when God, in his mighty power, miraculously delivered them from a life of slavery in Egypt after 400 years and entered into a covenant with them that called them to faithful obedience. As Deut. 28 says, as long as they kept that covenant, God would protect them and provide for them. The Exodus stands at the center of their religious observance because who but God could have accomplished that? So, to this day, Jews observe the Passover to remember God’s salvation.
The second watershed event took place in 586 B.C. when the nation Babylon attacked what was left of Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, and took thousands of Jews captive. And for 70 years many of those Jews lived in Exile. Prophets had warned that such destruction would come upon them if they allowed their sins to continue. The writer of Lamentations pours out his grief over this sad chapter in their history. Open your Bibles to Lamentations.