Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
‘I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
For no-one is cast off
by the LORD forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.’
Lamentations 3: 19-23, 31-33
If you’ve journeyed with us thus far, you’ll be familiar with the story: after countless warnings from God and his prophets to the Israelites that they must change their sinful ways and turn back to the Lord, Jerusalem has been ransacked by the Babylonians, and the people taken into exile. The city is left in ruins.
The author of Lamentations – generally believed to be the prophet Jeremiah – is writing of the city’s pain and defeat, and the depths of despair its inhabitants are experiencing. There is no doubt in his – or their – mind that this suffering is ultimately from God; an outworking of his justice: ‘I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the LORD’s wrath’ (3:1).
The pain of the people runs deep: ‘your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?’ (2:13) and their suffering is close to unbearable. They have reached the end of themselves. God’s justice has broken them almost beyond repair.
And yet, this extract from chapter 3 brings us a seemingly contradictory revelation: if hardship is part of God’s justice, then hope is possible. For if God is consistent with justice, he will be consistent in his promise of covenant rescue. As the poet focusses on God’s part in the suffering: ‘he has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light’ (3:2), hope appears.
The Lord’s consistency of character, his faithfulness to his word – shown most recently in the painful outworking of his justice – mean that the poet can still have faith in his kindness, mercy, and faithfulness. God has been faithful before, and he will continue to be so.
‘Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love’. The surprising salvation of the Lord dawns.
And so it is here, in the depths of Lamentations’ despair, that we can pause for a moment, draw breath, and hope.
Wherever you find yourself this Lent, whether in the depths of despair or at the height of rejoicing, may you discover hope in the unexpected places, and be surprised once again by the salvation of the Lord. For he is just and merciful, faithful and true, and his compassions never fail.
‘Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.’
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