From Lament to Joy

Book of Lamentations

By Chuck Griffin

No doubt, we’ve been experiencing tough times. It’s not much consolation, but we do need to remember that times have been tougher.

In the Book of Lamentations, the Promised Land is depicted as smoking ruins, and we are told that starving mothers ate their children. Never forget that the Bible can be a grisly book.

As Lamentations notes, at least the destruction of sinful Sodom and Gomorrah was quick. Jerusalem’s punishment for disobeying God was slow and agonizing, creating scenes that even the seedier side of Hollywood might hesitate to depict.

Jewish tradition holds that this series of poems was written by the prophet Jeremiah, who warned the people of Judah that God’s punishment was coming and then watched invasion, destruction and exile unfold through his long life.

I cannot fully capture for you the somber beauty of these poems in a short article. If the imagery were not crafted with elegant conciseness, most readers would quickly turn away from the dark subject matter.

In these poems, the author twists in pain as he struggles to reconcile God’s obvious anger with God’s faithful love.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness,” says the writer in chapter 3. He later says of God, “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

Yes, when God removes his protective hand from a disobedient people, terrible things happen. Existence without God is hellish. In fact, the best way to define hell is as a place separated from God.

But in the midst of all this horror, the author senses one important fact about God. His love for humanity, even for each individual human, remains, and somehow, somewhere, there must be an ultimate solution to the pain sin causes.

Once again, we find the Old Testament pointing toward the New Testament, that record of the ultimate solution found in Jesus Christ. We are reminded in the midst of suffering that God finally chose to suffer with us, in the process using the cross to solve the dilemma of human disobedience. Through simple belief, our sin is erased, and we receive the promise that the horrible effects of sin will be wiped from the world one day.

At the close of Lamentations, the author prays that his people be restored to God, “unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.”

In Christ, we find that God loves us beyond measure. With Christ in our lives, we can walk through tough times with confidence and even joy, knowing God is eternally faithful.

Lord, whatever our circumstances, restore our joy. Amen.

From Glory to Horror to Hope

Matthew 2:13-18

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

So strange—at this point in the Christmas story, we’ve heard of angelic announcements and a virgin birth, events so miraculous they’re highlighted in the night sky, drawing wise men from distant lands. And then this horror happens.

As terrible as the slaughter of these innocent children is to contemplate, perhaps the account does help us process the horrors we have seen. It’s not unusual for people to ask, “How can God let such things happen?”

Well … evil remains in the world, doesn’t it? Satan and all beings who follow Satan’s lead see their impending destruction in Christ’s arrival. Their ongoing response is one of fury, an unleashing of the irrational anger at the core of their being.

Like Herod, any self-centered human can experience how frustration leads to anger, and anger can turn violent. There’s also a general brokenness to the world, the result of uncountable generations of sinful decision-making going back to the original break between humanity and God.

So even at the time of the birth of Christ, horrors persisted. And horrors will persist, for a time.

God has provided the solution, though. Somehow, the solution even will be mysteriously retroactive, wiping away every tear, to quote Revelation 21:4. We also can look to the concluding verses in Jeremiah 31:15-17, to which Matthew alluded after telling the tale of the Bethlehem children:

“There is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.”

The work of Christ does not yet relieve us of the horrors we have witnessed or experienced, but it will. That great truth, mysterious as it is, should give us hope in all circumstances.

Lord, as we confront the dark realities of our world, give us a deeper understanding of how very temporary you will prove them to be. Amen.