Believing Beyond Our Circumstances: A Lesson from Lamentations
One of my favorite verses to recite from memory is Lamentations 3:22-23,
“Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”
Gosh I love this passage! It encourages us in God’s sure and constant mercy and compassion new EVERY morning. But what I didn’t realize before, was the context in which these words were spoken. Take a look at the descriptive and rather grotesque picture painted by the writer, “lamenting” over his dire circumstances (Lamentations 3:1-15):
“I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, ‘My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.'”
Darkness…rejection…broken bones…bitterness…mockery…broken teeth?? Wow. This writer is “lamenting”, for good reason, the terribly painful, difficult and almost unbearable situation he is experiencing and seeing around him. All of Jeremiah’s warnings about Jerusalem coming to utter ruin and destruction were coming true. Lamentations records five poems of sorrow of the fallen city, as a result of God’s people turning away from Him. Reading them as a whole, they are weighty and full of emotion, giving vivid description of the darkness that befell God’s people. And yet…
There IS an “and yet.” Check it out, just a few lines after the dark and despairing laments above, you might think the writer is on the brink of suicide or absolute despair. It seems he has been deserted by God and seemingly lost all hope. BUT, he then comes in with this surprising YET statement:
“YET this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. ~Verses 21-23 (emphasis added)
I don’t know about you, but seeing this passage again — in context — adds a deeper layer of meaning and richness. It wasn’t like his situation improved and he suddenly was reminded of God’s faithfulness. No, he was still in the midst of the darkness — the physical and spiritaul pain of rejection and abuse — and he somehow had the wherewithal to believe beyond his circumstances, Nope, this utterly despairing situation is NOT reality. I refuse to believe it is so! Then, in his probably rather pathetic and feeble state, he recalls to mind the real truth about the situation, God loves me and his compassions are new to me even in this moment. I may fail, but He won’t. I may be faithless, but He is faithful. My life may not be good right now, but God IS good. He seems to be preaching these truths to himself, desperately hoping they’ll somehow bear witness and bring some light inside the dark prison of his own soul. He wills himself to continue:
“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” ~Verse 25
There is no evidence that the writer’s circumstances improved during or after he said these words. He was saying them as his circumstances remained the same. They didn’t change, but without a doubt, he did. This reminds us not to equate God’s goodness with things that are, well, “good” in our lives. We often do this. During difficult times, we wonder if God is good and why, if he loved us, we would be facing such difficulty. But what we can learn from this precious lamenting soul is that no matter how bad or dark or discouraging our circumstances appear to be, true faith lies in the unseen, as the writer of Hebrews so eloquently puts it:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1
We will inevitably face times when we cannot see or hear or feel or sense God in our circumstances. Those are the times we must follow the example of this lamenting soul by “calling to mind” truths about God revealed to us in His Word. We must remind ourselves, preach to ourselves even, the reality that exists in the unseen.
Before you go about your day today, pick a verse in Scripture that you can “call to mind,” which embodies a certain truth about who God truly is. The moment you face a challenging or difficult situation, no matter how big, small, messy, discouraging, or confusing it may seem, choose to call to mind that very verse that reminds you of the reality of His love, kindness, faithfulness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, security…or whatever it may be.
Finally, remember, as my pastor often says, “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.” Continue to put your hope in Him and to seek Him in the good times and the bad, and you will most surely find — despite your circumstances — God’s goodness revealed to you, in the most profound and unexpected ways.