When Your Heart Is Wounded

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Lamentations 3:13-26

What can you do when it looks like your world has been destroyed? The Bible gives us one thing to do: it tells us to remember.

Every year a service is held in Jewish synagogues to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in the year 587 b.c. Part of that service includes the reading of the Old Testament book of Lamentations, which is a series of poems expressing the grief of the Jewish people when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and they were taken to Babylon in exile. Tradition ascribes them to the pen of the prophet Jeremiah. Here is the heart of this book of Lamentations, a passage from the third chapter.

He drove into my heart the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the burden of their songs all day long. He has filled me with bitterness, he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and my expectation from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (vv. 13-24, rsv)

THE CRIES OF A WOUNDED HEART

Now whether or not the traditional authorship of Lamentations is accurate, it is certainly understandable. Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet” because it was his destiny to speak God’s word to the people during the time of their greatest suffering. And Lamentations is nothing if not the cries of someone with a wounded heart.

Look again at the vivid and powerful imagery with which the writer expresses his pain:

He drove into my heart the arrows of his quiver. . . . He has filled me with bitterness, he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel; and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is.” (vv. 13, 15-18)

The worst thing about it all for this sufferer is the sense that God was the one behind all of his pain. “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath,” he writes (v. 1). You can understand how he felt. This man’s world had been destroyed; he had lost everything he cherished, and God had allowed it all to happen. It was God’s arrows that pierced his heart, God’s hand that fed him the bitterness and the gall. He was obsessed with his suffering; death and loss were all he could think about. Whenever he closed his eyes, the images were there, filling his mind constantly. “My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me” (v. 20).

Then, completely unexpectedly, like a shaft of brilliant light piercing the darkest night, this man breaks into one of the most powerful statements of faith in the whole Bible:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

(vv. 21-24)

What happened? How did that healing and hope come so suddenly to this wounded heart? The answer is that he remembered something. “But this I call to mind,” he said, “and therefore I have hope” (v. 21). What did he remember? He remembered what God is like. And when he did that, he was overwhelmed again by a sense of the goodness and the love of God. It came over him like a flood, it filled his heart once more. It brought wholeness and happiness; he remembered God, and above all, he remembered God’s faithfulness.

AN EVER-FLOWING RIVER

The faithfulness of God is related to two other of his most enduring qualities, his love and his mercy. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (vv. 22, 23a).

God’s love is his decision to be gracious toward his people; his mercies are the expression of that decision in action. Because God’s love is steadfast and unceasing, his mercies are unending and always new – he continually expresses his love in specific acts of kindness and care. Think of that for a moment. God’s mercy and his love are endless. The multitude of people who are dependent upon them does not exhaust them. The unworthiness of those who live by them each day does not shut them off, despite the things we do daily that legitimately could cause God to turn away from us. Like Israel’s manna in the wilderness, so it is with God’s mercies; they are new every morning. Every day he renews his care by sending us grace sufficient for that day. Not for the next day, not for the next week, not for the next year, not for any of those anxieties that so trouble us about the future, but enough mercy for today, to get through from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep again.

The unfailing love and mercy of God have their source in his faithfulness, the unswerving constancy of God’s character. It is because of God’s great faithfulness that his love is steadfast and his mercies are never-ending. The relationship between these three attributes – the love, the mercies and the faithfulness of God – is like a great river of which faithfulness is the source and from which love and mercy continuously flow into our lives.

GREAT IS YOUR FAITHFULNESS

If your heart has been wounded so badly you can think of nothing but your suffering and see nothing ahead but more pain, take refuge in the remembrance of God’s faithfulness. His character is constant. His purposes never waiver or vary. He does not steer an erratic course between love and hate. He continually is what he always has been: a loving God of grace. God is not sometimes kind and sometimes hostile. He is always loving and always working for his peoples’ good, even when he allows suffering to come in order to accomplish his purposes.

God expresses his faithfulness in two ways. First, he’s faithful to his promises; he always fulfills his word. When God makes a promise, he keeps it. It’s as simple as that. Because God is faithful, he can be taken at his word, unlike us. Think of the mass of paperwork involved in human relationships. We make contracts and agreements and treaties; we issue licenses, certificates, guarantees; we sign statements, we seal deeds – all of which are a mass of testimony to the basic faithlessness of our nature. The reason we have to do all this is because our word is not good; we can’t be trusted to keep it, that’s why we have to bind each other to our promises with oaths and witnesses and written documents. But God has no need of any of that. He is always faithful to what he says. Anything that he has spoken he will perform.

Yet – here’s a truly amazing thing – God still commits himself to people in a contract to love them. The phrase “steadfast love” in this passage from Lamentations 3 (v. 22) translates a beautiful Hebrew word that refers to God’s covenant love. A covenant is a sort of binding promise or agreement. Think of that! God, who has no need of guaranteeing his word (because he’s utterly faithful), nevertheless has bound himself in a covenant to love those who are his. He signed his name, as it were, on an official promise that he will always be our God, that he’ll never leave or forsake us. God didn’t do this to force himself to keep his word; he did it to reassure us beyond all doubt that he most certainly will. You and I break our promises so often. We fall in love, then grow out of it. We make vows, but then something happens and we walk away. But God never takes back anything that he has said. He’s always faithful to his word.

The second way in which God expresses his faithfulness is that he is faithful to his people. It’s a great thing to be true to your word, but an even greater thing to be true to a friend, because that takes an unconditional commitment. To be faithful to another person means more than just keeping an explicit promise; it means you have to stand by that friend in every situation. And that is how God is faithful to us. Do you realize that if you are a Christian, you belong to God and he will always be faithful to you? God’s promises are wonderful and encouraging, and we can derive great strength from them, but remember, beneath all the promises lies the foundation truth that God will always be faithful to his people no matter what. That means, if you are one of his, God will stand by you. He will never abandon you. Because he is faithful, he will never turn you away. Whether the pain of existence has wounded your heart and filled your soul with the bitterness of wormwood and gall, or whether you are just plain tired, God is always faithful and you will find his arms open to embrace you.

A DECISION TO MAKE

“The Lord is my portion,” says the writer of Lamentations (v. 24); “therefore I will hope in him.” That’s the bottom line. It’s an interesting statement. Actually, it’s a quotation from a Psalm that ultimately goes back to the time when Joshua led the people of Israel into the promised land. As the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and began to fan out through Canaan, Joshua was directed by God to assign a portion of the land to each family. Many years later one of the writers of the Psalms, harking back to that day, wrote, “The Lord is my portion.” That is to say, “I would choose God in preference to any earthly inheritance or riches, to property, houses, titles, or honors.” It’s the same idea as in the refrain of a song by a much later believer, another man who had little of what the world values:

Give me Jesus, give me Jesus,

Oh, you can have all the rest –

Give me Jesus.

“The Lord is my portion.” I wonder how often the writer of Lamentations must have heard the words of that Psalm in worship! Perhaps they didn’t mean too much to him. Perhaps what happens in church so often happened to him. The words just went past him without making an impression, until the day came when he lost all he had. And suddenly he realized that it was true, that it wasn’t just religious talk. God really was everything to him.

One of the hard lessons of human existence is that we do lose everything in the end. It may happen suddenly and all at once through some untimely tragedy, as it did for the biblical writer. Or it may happen gradually with the creeping years. Money, job, property, possessions, friends, family, health, mind and memory – one by one they will be taken from us, and then finally, life itself. When that happens, one of two things will occur. Either you will be left with nothing, or, if you have made the Lord your portion, if you have put your hope in him, you will have everything. It will all depend on whether you lived for all the things you cannot keep or whether you have entrusted yourself to the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases. But you can’t choose then; then will be too late. Your decision must be made, it is being made, today.