I am continually amazed at how Scripture acknowledges pain and suffering.
I have been reading through Jeremiah, and just this week, traipsed into Lamentations, and let me just say, these have not been pleasurable readings. Over and over again, each morning, I am met with the stark reality of the wrath of God poured out on His people because over and over again, they refused to listen to Him and His warnings regarding their sin.
And now, in Lamentations, we see the absolute horror of God’s wrath. Jeremiah describes the destruction of Jerusalem vividly:
Lamentations 2:11; 14-15; 20 “My eyes are spent with weeping: my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city…Your prophets have seen of you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading. All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem: ‘Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?’…Look, O LORD, and see! With whom have you dealt thus? Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the LORD?”
Yikes. Babies starving, abandoned in the streets? Women eating their starved, dead babies? This is what it came to? No wonder Jeremiah says later in chapter 3, verses 1-3, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me, He turns His hand again and again the whole day long.”
Jeremiah has already suffered intense and on-going persecution for his prophecies. He has undergone the torture of over and over again not being listened to, and being mocked instead, for his words from the Lord. Now that they have come true, he has to endure seeing his beloved people suffer horrendously.
We, in our Western modern civilization, can only imagine the kind of horrors Jeremiah had to witness as the city was overcome.
But what stands out to me again and again with Jeremiah, and elsewhere in Scripture, is the acknowledgement that God is the one in charge of all of it. It is God who brought Jeremiah to places of only darkness without any light. It is God who is later described as having “walled [him] about so that [he] cannot escape,” Jeremiah 3:7. God is the one who is doing all the destruction, ultimately.
We don’t talk about God that way now, do we? How can we, when we can barely handle the existence of evil at all and still be able to say with good conscience that He is a God of love?
But Jeremiah can. Go back and read all of Jeremiah 3. Jeremiah is in the trenches. He is in a very dark place. He says in 3:17-18, “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘my endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.'”
But even in this wretched and dark and hopeless place, Jeremiah does not ultimately despair. Even as his city falls around him, as he watches mothers eat their children to survive, even as his own soul falters, he says in 3:21, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”
He calls to mind. He is bone-weary in his despair. But he calls to mind. He has not ultimately given up, even when it feels like all his hope is gone. He calls to mind. What is it that he calls to mind, that can revive his hope again, even in that dark, dark place?
Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Even when it seems like all hope is gone, Jeremiah knows better. He has prophesied already that some day, the very enemy that wrecked such havoc on Jerusalem, would one day equally come under God’s wrath, and God would restore Jerusalem. So, Jeremiah knows. He knows that God is not through with Israel. His love is a covenantal love, a love that goes all the way back to Eve in the garden. His love doesn’t cease. His faithfulness to His promises to His people will never stop. There is always new mercies from the Lord. Always. The story will never, ever end with darkness and despair. There is always a committed, covenanted love for God’s people.
And so, God afflicts, but God also restores. We have the whole testimony of Scripture, to show forth how committed He is to His people. And His commitment doesn’t stop with Israel. It is there for us now, in Christ. And so, Paul says in Romans 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘for your sake, we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Don’t read these promises apart from the context of Scripture, or you will miss out on their full meaning.
For those who are Christ’s will always belong to Him.
And so even when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and encountering darkness on every side, we too can call to mind and therefore have hope: God’s love never fails. His mercies are new every morning: great is His faithfulness.