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Jeremiah – Well Done!
Lamentations – July
This word means the passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping. Lament prayer is to persuade God to ACT on behalf of the sufferer. Last blog I asked if perhaps God spared Jeremiah from what was happening above ground when they threw him in a pit. That’s possible but in this book we learned that while he was in there someone poured water on his head and also threw rocks at him (Lam3:52-54). This was while he was praying for them and the nation. My whole life up to this point could not conceive of such cruelty – especially from religious folks but this year in our political culture and after going thru some things personally I can now see where that would be possible. Poor Jeremiah was just trying to communicate God’s heart and help them understand God’s voice. What a mess! Jeremiah is part of the writings (Ketuvim) section of the Old Testament. There are five chapters or poems of lament. It laments the period of time when the Babylonian soldiers destroyed Jerusalem, God’s city and the Temple. The people did not realize that God would travel with them so seeing these things destroyed must have felt like God had been destroyed also. Jeremiah tells them throughout Lamentations their true source of HOPE.
For a class assignment I was also reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It is his account of living in Auschwitz. It is not a book for the squeamish that’s for sure as it details his hope to live and the atrocities around him in the concentration camps. When I hear comparisons to modern day jails to confine people it makes me angry. Intentionally trying to decimate someone is vastly different than trying to protect the population. Such overreach makes valid arguments (and there are some) not worthy of being heard. The children in Auschwitz were never treated as children but adults and many would throw their bodies at the electric fences to escape the daily fear of the gas chambers and crematoriums. Keeping order on our borders is not the same as purposeful slaughter of a group of people because of their religious beliefs. It seems like a secondary offense to compare the two. It’s another way to water down what truly happened and change the narrative of history. The lamentations from those camps are still being sung and voiced today. I think that is appropriate and necessary, lest we forget.
All of this stirred in my heart as I read this precious book. During this time frame, we were given a magnet for our fridge that reads:
The Most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity; and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. – Elizabeth Kubler Ross
Lamentations gives us a picture of what Jeremiah endured and what the people faced in the exile. It is heavy reading and makes for tough devotional material – until you get to chapter three:
Yet this I call to mind (remember, reflect, bring into my heart)
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love (Mercy) we are not consumed (destroyed, vanquished),
for His compassions (tender love, root of this word says it is like a womb that holds a fetus) never fail.
Note the description of God here- that’s the definition of compassion!
With this definition, our nation should be in lament and grief.
23 They are new (restoring and refreshing) every morning, (every sunrise);
great (vast, many, enough) is your faithfulness (truth, fidelity, steadfastness).
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion (award, reward, land);
therefore I will wait for Him.” 25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Jeremiahs secret and certainly Viktor Frankl and others in the Holocaust was to remember God’s past works and to trust in God’s deliverance and love. When we remember, when we recount God’s goodness, when we look forward to His salvation, we have HOPE. Trusting God starts with knowing God. While we may never understand why God does what He does, we can trust His character. Herman Gunkel once said, “If God is predictable then He is a tool of humans.” God retains the holy prerogative to heal and bruise as He chooses and that free will keeps us from being trapped in a robotic world of fate. When we surrender our ultimate destiny to a loving God, we are free to work in His kingdom. What we fear the most – death, is no longer our ultimate fear because we have surrendered to a God we believe makes only righteous decisions. Wrestling with these concepts emboldens us to serve a God who is anything but tame. It also ignites passion in us that the world has rarely seen. According to Luke 18:1, we are invited to pray and even appeal to God for changes in the outcome. He remains unchanging; we connect with His divine will as co-laborers in a divine exchange of mercy, favor and grace.
Steve Leder, a Rabbi in one of the largest synagogues in America wrote a book, “More Beautiful than Before” and it speaks directly to suffering and ministering to people who are in lament. It starts off with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “there is a crack in everything.” It continues with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Courage is not having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have the strength. The rest of the book is filled with stories and deeply personal revelations of years ministering to those crushed by chronic pain, death and sorrow. It is an excellent resource for ministers and chaplains who grapple with these tough questions every day. It made Lamentations come alive for me in a new way. Crushed people somehow know how to bring spiritual glue to others, it comes no other way.
The apostle Paul said it this way, 10 “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation (fellowship) in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Many want the resurrection before they have entered into the suffering. It’s a grave without a cross experience and it is hollow. My husband noted that the hollow grave culture strives to retire into complacency with the status quo, but the purpose is all self-indulgent. It’s not for the divine purpose of the kingdom. Big difference. He said his bigger fear is living in complacency and safety. Jeremiah didn’t have to go to Babylon. His foresight through prophecy warned him of what was to come- he went anyway. He had an inkling and a word that things were not going to turn out as he hoped or planned – he went anyway. God was not caught off guard, diminished or forgetful. He knew the plans He had for Jeremiah and His people. I love it when the unchanging God changes things to bring about a holy change for His purposes. His story is filled with those occurrences.
So, what will we do with this book? Its prescription:
That we continually remember and call to mind the deeds of the Lord.
Its healing solution is that we wait on the Lord and place our hope (grounded in Gods’ track record and fulfilled by His presence and promises) in Christ. Jeremiah wasn’t an ivory tower preacher or television star spouting out platitudes. He wasn’t dressing for success –his linens were buried in dirty rocks, remember? We can look at his life and identify with the call to proclaim God’s heart. We can look at his life and understand that doing so will bring on persecution that may cost our jobs or even our lives. So what! Our direction and calling do not come from man’s hand but from God’s. Ultimately, as we hope for God and wait on Him, justice will shine like the noonday sun. Eternally, God will be pleased and if that is our ultimate goal, nothing else really matters.
Lament, arise, proclaim,