READ : Lamentations 3:13-24
What can you do when it looks like your whole world has been destroyed? The Bible tells us to do something very particular, something that might surprise you. It tells us to remember.
Every year in each Jewish synagogue a memorial service is held to commemorate the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. 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 these poems, these lamentations, to the pen of the prophet Jeremiah.
The Cries of a Wounded Heart
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 a person whose heart has been wounded.
Listen to the vivid and powerful imagery with which the writer expresses his pain:
[God] 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, ESV)
The worst thing about it all for this sufferer is the sense that God was ultimately responsible for his suffering. “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 sat back and permitted it all to happen. It was God’s arrows that pierced his heart, God’s hand that fed him the bitterness and the gall. This man 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 same poet 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, ESV)
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). So what was it he remembered? 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 healing. He remembered God; above all he remembered God’s faithfulness.
An Ever-flowing River
The faithfulness of God is one of his greatest qualities, and its praises are sung again and again throughout the Old Testament. It’s related to two other of God’s 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, his steadfast love, is his firm decision to be gracious toward his people; his mercies that are new every morning are the expression of that love in action. Because God’s love is steadfast and unswerving, his mercies are unending and always new. He continually re-expresses his love in specific acts of kindness and care toward his people. Think of that for just a moment. God’s mercy and his love are endless. The multitude of people who are dependent upon them never exhausts his mercy and love.
The unworthiness of our lives doesn’t shut off God’s love and mercy despite the things we do daily that legitimately could cause God to stop loving us. Like Israel’s manna in the wilderness, so it is with God’s mercies; they are new each morning. Every day he renews his care by sending us just what we need for that day. Not for tomorrow, not for the next week, not for next year, but for today, just enough mercy to get by, to get us 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 ever-new. The relationship between these three attributes – love, mercy and faithfulness – 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
Let’s think just a bit more about how God expresses or demonstrates his faithfulness. In the first place, he’s faithful to his promises; he always keeps his word. When God makes a promise, he fulfills it. It’s as simple as that. Because God is faithful, he can be taken at his word. I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the mass of paperwork that surrounds us and especially that governs our human relationships. We make contracts and agreements and treaties; we issue licenses, certificates, guarantees. We sign statements, we seal deeds – all of which are one huge testimony to the basic faithlessness of our human nature. All these things are needed because we can’t be trusted to keep our promises to fulfill our word. That’s why we try to bind each other with oaths, witnesses, written documents and the threat of lawsuits. But God has no need of any of that. He is always faithful to what he says he will do. Anything that he has spoken he will perform.
And yet – here’s a truly amazing thing – God still commits himself to his people in a formal contract to love them. It’s as if he says, “I don’t need to do this but I will give you my solemn oath and promise.” The phrase “steadfast love” in this passage from Lamentations 3 (v. 22) translates a beautiful Hebrew word that really refers to God’s covenant love. A covenant is a binding promise or agreement. God, who has no need of guaranteeing his word (because he’s always faithful), nevertheless has bound himself in a solemn covenant to love those who are his. He has signed his name, as it were, to an official promise that he will always be our God, that he’ll never leave us or forsake us. God didn’t do this to force himself to keep his word to us; he did it to reassure us beyond all doubt that he most certainly will. He is always faithful to his word.
And he is always faithful to his people. It’s good to be true to your word, but it’s even better to be true to a friend because that takes an even greater commitment. To be faithful to another person means more than just keeping one particular promise or another; it means you have to stand by that friend at all times and in every situation. God’s promises are wonderful and encouraging, and we can derive great strength from them.
But remember, beneath those promises lies the deeper truth that God will always be faithful to you, no matter what, if you belong to him. If you’re a Christian, if you know God as your loving Father for the sake of Jesus Christ, then he will always stand by you. He will never abandon you. Because God is faithful, he will never turn you away. Whether the going is good for you right now, or whether your life is in ruins and you’re tasting wormwood (bitter leaves), know that God is always faithful. You can trust what his Word says, and you can trust him to be for you.
A Decision to Make
There is also a personal application I’d like to make of this truth about the great faithfulness of God. “The Lord is my portion,” says the writer of Lamentations (v. 24); “therefore I will hope in him.” That’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 River and began to fan out through Canaan, Joshua was directed by God to assign a portion of the land to each clan or family group. 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 want to choose God in preference to anything else here on earth.” It’s the same idea we find in the refrain of a song by a much later believer, another man, an anonymous African American 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 that phrase from the Psalms when he went to worship in the temple! Perhaps the words never really registered with him. Perhaps what so often happens to us in church happened to him as well. The words that were sung or read went whizzing by without making much of an impression, that is, until the day came when he lost all he had. At that moment this man realized that it was true; 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. Or it may happen gradually with the creeping years. Money, job, property, possessions, friends, family, health, mind, even memory – one by one they will be taken away from us, and then finally, life itself. When that happens, one of two things will occur. Either you will be left alone with nothing, or, if you have chosen the Lord as your portion, if you have put your hope in Jesus Christ, you will still have everything.
But you can’t make your choice then; then it will be too late. Your decision must be made, it is being made, today. So which is it? The things of this world, or the Lord whose love is unfailing and whose faithfulness is great?