Friday, December 6, 2019

Mercy Mixed in Lament

Recently, one of our pastors challenged the congregation to read through Lamentations. Yeah, right before the joyful season of Advent -- Lamentations. Well, let me tell you, do NOT throw down the gauntlet on an oft ignored, deeply introspective, shockingly melancholy book, because that is typically my jam. So, yeah, game on.

Right around the fold of the book, I bumped into this familiar coffee-cup verse:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” Lamentations 3:22-24

I’ve known this passage my whole life. Most of us have. Numerous praise songs based on these verses get stuck in my head every time I spot them on the cover of a journal or tote bag in Lifeway <insert moment of silence – R.I.P. >. But I guess I had neglected to memorize the address of the verse, and, since context is king in studying the writings of Scripture, I had missed something big.

While it may seem likely the writer of Lamentations penned these lofty, comforting, highly-monetizable words while sipping a sweet tea on his back porch, admiring God’s handiwork on a perfectly sunny, lightly breezy 74-degree Saturday afternoon, he did not. The fact is that those words were born in the middle of absolute degradation, misery and lament.

Scoot back to the beginning of chapter three to set the scene:  The writer (traditionally thought to be the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah) is living a hell on earth in a rampaged, besieged Holy Land. Many of his people had already been deported violently by a pagan superpower, and those left in the city were afraid, lost and starving to the point of cannibalism. Seriously, read the details. Mothers eating their own children to survive. No mercy among the people of God. No divine inheritance being lived out. The writer cries out with a “how long, O Lord?” refrain, because he is beginning to lose hope.

BUT always watch for the “but”. There is a pivot from the pain just before our beloved, well-known passage. Verse 21: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope . . .”

And then he begins to preach the very nature of God Almighty to his weary, worn out self as he sits among the ashes.

The writer is alone and afraid, but’s God’s love is somehow still steadfast and unchanging. He knows that. God’s mercies will return with the sunrise, even though the smoke from his city’s burning continues to obscure the view. It seems God has abandoned them, but, no, He is faithful to the end and sovereign, completely and totally sovereign. The writer has no more physical inheritance, no food, no comfort from community, but what he does have is God Himself.

“The LORD is my portion.” 

And that’s it, just God. He has nothing else but the LORD. And THAT is why he will continue to have hope even in the middle of unbelievable pain and destruction. The nature and plan of God is immutable even in the storms. Preach it to yourself.

I heard a story not too long ago of a young musician who lost his wife just a few hours after she had given birth to their first child. His friends say that when they arrived at the hospital to comfort him, the man sat with his head in his hands repeating again and again, “You are always good. You are always good. You are always good.” But how? In that moment, how?

This is why we must know God’s word and know it well. He has revealed Himself there. The nature of the God of all creation, the maker of bright beaches and shadowy graves, has been hand-delivered to our hungry souls on those pages. Preach that truth to yourself again and again. Over and over. When you have nothing, the LORD is your portion. Have hope.