Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness
If I ask 1000 Christians what their favourite book of the bible is, I doubt any would answer “Lamentations”. It may be one of the most overlooked books in the bible, aside from just a few words. There are a few famous declarations of God’s faithfulness right in the middle of the book, but I don’t think we can understand them rightly if we take them out of the context of the misery, suffering, and hopelessness that is described on either side.
In my own hopelessness I have read the first 20 verses of chapter 3 and added a gloomy “amen”. I think we have to deal with what Jeremiah is saying in these verses before we can glory in verse 21 and forward.
1 I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;
3 surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.
4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones;
5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;
6 he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. – Lamentations 3:1-20
Why is this in the bible? I think it’s because the bible deals with the whole reality of human experience, and is brutally honest about it. Jeremiah felt this way. I have and sometimes still feel this this way. I’m sure most people have felt this way at some point in their life.
This is an expression of hopelessness. Hopelessness FEELS like God has turned against you, like He has His foot on your throat and won’t let up. It hurts physically; it is an oppressive weight; it seems that there’s no way out; it seems that God doesn’t care and is covering his ears when we pray for just a little ease; it seems impossible to even remember what “peace” and “happiness” are. Finally, it drives us to give up, both on life, and on any hope we may have had in God, until all that is left is to continually dwell on the hopeless misery and pain of life.
Then verse 21 flips the script in a way no one would anticipate from reading the beginning of the chapter.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. – Lamentations 3:21-26
The beginning of the chapter is a description of how hopelessness feels. In the following verses, Jeremiah comes to his senses and shows us how truth trumps feeling. He calls to mind the reality that he knows. Now, just knowing this isn’t enough, and this, I have found is one of the hardest struggles in my own Christian life – BELIEVING WHAT I KNOW IS TRUE. That’s a simple working definition of faith. Everything in life feels and looks one way, but by faith in the character and promises of God revealed in scripture, we fight for hope when all seems hopeless.
Jeremiah reminds himself, and he reminds me to take my eyes off of my circumstances and lift them to the God I claim to believe in. What do I know about God that I desperately need to believe in this situation? In order to have hope I need to believe that:
1) God’s love doesn’t waver, rather it is “steadfast” and it never ends even when I think He has abandoned me.
2) Likewise, God’s mercy has no end and it doesn’t have an expiry date. Everyday God reaffirms His mercy toward His chosen and purchased people even when it feels like things could not get worse. He does not treat me as my sins deserve, and often his mercy comes in painful forms, like a surgeon who must cut deeply to get at the tumour that is killing a patient. He is too merciful to let me linger in sin and doubt. He would be cruel to just give me a shot of morphine and let these tumours grow.
3) Though I have been faithless through in my suffering, God’s faithfulness to me has never wavered. He cannot lie, and He has promised to remain faithful to His chosen and purchased people.
4) Verses 24-26 give some explanation for the severity of the suffering already described. “The LORD is my portion”. God uses pain in my life to remind me that there is nothing in this world that was meant to satisfy me. He may strip away health and money and stability and all my plans so that I can see Him as my highest and best good. My soul was meant to delight in Him above all else, and He will not share His glory or allow me to settle for finding “happiness” anywhere else.
a. This is meant to be a great well of hope for me because all the pain that may drive me to despair is a sign of His love, mercy, and faithfulness to drive me to hope in the presence of God – the only thing that cannot fail, cannot disappoint, and cannot be taken away.
5) This process takes time and takes a resting kind of effort. This requires me to patiently trust what I know to be true. It is God’s way of teaching me faith as I see Him work saving change in my life. My circumstances may not change, but I will have hope as I come to a greater personal knowledge of God, a greater delight in the goodness of His presence, and trust in His sovereign purposes for my life.