Being Honest With God & Ourselves.
Lamentations 1 – 3.
God had cautioned Judah that He would judge her if they abandoned Him, and like most humans, they discounted God’s forewarnings and the consequences of their own sins. In the first three of five Lamentation poems recorded by the Prophet Jeremiah, and narrated in the rhythm and style of ancient Jewish funeral songs, we witnessed a litany of bitter grievances resulting from the abject sufferings of the Jewish nation, following the appalling destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Although it cannot be said that all suffering is the result of sin, in this context, it was clearly so. With her intelligentsia taken in shackles to Babylon, the remnants left behind lamented over their predicament and the desolation of Zion, the City of God. Jeremiah’s depressing description of the devastation and hopelessness in the land would overwhelm any soul (Lam 1). The agony of life bereft of Yahweh’s presence, as His unmitigated silence spoke volumes through this period of time, was more than the commentator could bear; “look and see if there is any pain like my pain which was severely dealt out to me, which the Lord inflicted… He sent fire into my bones” (Lam 1:12-13). The reality of Lamentations is that it does not seek to hide the loss, fear, and anger of communal suffering; some of it against God Himself. The flip-side to being realistic, honest, and in touch with one’s raw emotions is that healing can then begin, which paves the way towards forgiveness, restoration and wholeness. Any denial, and this is so common, would result in the subversion of one’s own sanity and healthy existence.
The second Lamentation, which is acrostic, focused on the outworking of God’s anger. When He judges, it is always justified; as His abounding grace and mercy inevitably precede it over a prolonged period of time, as He patiently waits for repentance. What was it like to be completely vulnerable and deprived of Yahweh’s protection? The turning point was the sight of starving infants and children. The depth of their own stubborn depravity suddenly dawned on them: they had brought judgment on themselves as a nation (Lam 2:11-13). Are our hearts hardened at the afflictions and injustices endured by others in this world? Does it draw out of us an appeal to God for forgiveness and mercy? God remains faithful to Jerusalem, and due to His commitment to Zion, He will not forsake his people for long; He yearns that this relationship be restored as soon as they repented.
The third and lengthiest acrostic Lamentation is spoken in the first-person pronoun. Being deeply reflective, the commentator was not unaware of God’s past faithfulness and chesed (Lam 3: 20-38) to His beloved people. He initially launched into a personal description of his utter abandonment by God and the darkness that encompassed it, but in the midst of his remorsefulness, he caught sight of a glimmer of hope in the Almighty’s lovingkindness, and this brought a promise of relief for him. Taking ownership of the outcome of his sinful predicament, he begins the process of reasoning within himself, and justifying the judgment of his God. He appeals for God’s mercy, knowing that chesed and mercy are inextricably bound together; for God from eternity had purposed judgment on Himself because of our sins, and He stands with us, as One closer than a brother, in times of suffering. The Lamentations of Jeremiah has much to teach us about those who had survived personal or communal tragedies and disasters, candidly processing their pain and anger from their deep wounds with God, and rising above them, with a restored spirituality that engenders faith in themselves and others.