Moving From Lament to Hope

August 9, 2020

In our journey through the Bible, we have come to the book of Lamentations.  

In the word “Lamentations,” you can hear the root word, “Lament.”  

Some people think a lament is a complaint, and that’s not accurate. If that were the case, this book would have to be one of the favorite books in the Bible for many Baptists.  

If complaining were an Olympic sport, every Baptist church would have some gold medal contenders. 

They stay in constant training. 

Their skills are amazing.  

They remind me of the people that Moses rescued from slavery. They were headed to the Promised Land, and going through a wilderness and God was giving them manna from heaven that they collected every morning, but they began to complain because they did not have any meat to eat. 

They said to Moses:

“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:5-6 NIV)

The people complained to Moses, and Moses complained to God about the people complaining to him.

“What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:4-20)

It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Moses is saying to God, “If this is what I’m going to have to put up with, just go ahead and kill me now.”

If you’ve ever had to lead an organization of complaining people, you can relate to Moses.  

It would do us all good to take a trip to a Third World country and stay for a month. When we came back, there would be much less complaining.  

There is a big difference between a complaint and a lament.  

A lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.

When we lose something of great value, and we express that in words, we are lamenting.

What had the people of Judah lost? Jerusalem. The beloved city of David lay in ruins. The temple was destroyed.  Thus the book of Lamentations.  

“How deserted lies the city once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She was queen among the provinces has now become a slave! Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her, they have become her enemies.” (1:1-2)

The book of Lamentations was written during the exile. The author may have been Jeremiah.  

He says that the city has been swallowed up and God had “rejected his altar

     and abandoned his sanctuary.” (2:5)

 “He has given the walls of her palaces

     into the hands of the enemy.” (2:7)

The explanation for the destruction of Jerusalem is not unlike the explanation of those times of great natural disasters when people refer to hurricanes and tornados as “acts of God.”

The author is saying the same thing. He is saying that the destruction of Jerusalem was an act of God. This goes to the core belief of the Jews that nothing happened that God did not allow to happen. 

You can hear the tone of the writer shift in the third chapter to more of an angry tone.  

Anger is a part of grief. 

This writer is angry at God.  You may be angry at God for something you have experienced. You may know someone that is angry at God.

Listen to a few of these verses:

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. 

(Lam. 3:1-6 NIV)

 Do you hear the tone?

God is being blamed for everything wrong.  The writer believed God had turned away from him and afflicted his body.  

He believed the trials he was facing was God’s doing. 

He believed God had filled his life with darkness.  

In verse 8, he did not believe God heard his prayers. He thought God was out to get him.  

In verse 14, he had become a laughingstock to his friends. 

He said God had made him bitter and angry. He no longer got any respect; he had no peace or happiness; he had lost his home.

This man was discouraged after losing his beloved city of Jerusalem.

It’s difficult for us to understand the love and attachment this writer had for Jerusalem.  

Jerusalem became a walled city 4000 years ago. It was the traditional site where Abraham carried Isaac for sacrifice before God stopped him.   

It’s on a hill with a perennial water source, making it ideal for fortification, so about 3,000 years ago, King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his royal city. 

He built a royal palace there and brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city. Jerusalem became a spiritual and political center for the people. It was like Washington D.C., and the Vatican or your most precious church location all rolled into one.  

So imagine if 9/11 had taken down our Capitol or if an EF 4 or 5 Tornado hit our city and destroyed most of our homes and landmarks. 

Jerusalem was razed. King Zedekiah’s sons were captured and killed. The king was blinded, bound, and taken to Babylon. A small number of people were left to tend the land. The rest were taken away in exile.  

Jeremiah was one of those people left behind. The destruction was around him daily. Can you imagine living in the city’s rubble day after day while still trying to maintain your faith?

If this is Jeremiah’s lament, it shows that this prophet of God struggled with faith, persecution, and human suffering. All of these were enough to discourage him.

I have seen people struggle with faith and voice laments after the death of a spouse or the death of a child. 

Some people blame God. The faith they once had and the understanding they once had about God no longer exists.

I don’t judge. I just listen. 

I realize that each person must work through their struggle. I know that God is not going to abandon them. I know that their sorrow is real.  

If put in the same situation, the same lament might be on my lips.

This grief can feel consuming, but I know God and his love is strong enough to bring them through it. 

I have learned that God can use me to help, but that God is the one that heals. 

The power of God’s word is that a book like Lamentations honestly deals with the grief we experience when our world falls apart and we are left at a loss to understand the God we thought we knew. 

When life piles on the difficulties, it’s human nature to become discouraged.  

Loss can leave us feeling numb. 

We can walk around in a fog, functioning, but not feeling, at least not feeling what we used to feel.  

Our old feelings might be replaced with anger, loneliness, despair, or depression.  

During these times, we are prone to wander from our faith and engage in activities that can damage our health or relationships with others.  

When Moses left the people and went up on Mt. Hebron to receive the Ten Commandments of God, he stayed a lot longer than expected. 

They became anxious. These people were former slaves and were used to having structure.  

With their leader gone, they were anxious and discouraged. They turned to Aaron and asked him to make them a god they could see and worship. 

They wandered away from the God who led them out of bondage and created a god of their own making.

Any time we lose something of great value, we grieve. We have to adjust to a different kind of life.  

During the pandemic, we’ve have lost community, time with family, the opportunity to gather with friends, watch and play sports.  

Weddings have been postponed; funerals have been canceled; celebrations have been forgone; businesses have closed; jobs have been lost; bankruptcies have occurred, and school plans have been changed.  

Grandparents can’t hug their grandchildren; nursing home residents have been isolated from their family; families have been kept out of the hospital to see their loved ones.  

Over one hundred sixty-thousand have died from COVID-19 and some have died alone.  

Nearly five million in our country alone have been infected by the virus. 

We are all collectively grieving a way of life that has left us and we are struggling to reclaim. 

 In times of grief, we can allow our trust in one another to erode because we all grieve in different ways. 

It’s easy not to live by the Golden Rule than it is to follow it.  It’s easy to stop trying to understand how our neighbor may be struggling and dealing with their grief differently than us.

Those who worship God are not exempt.  This is clear, as we read the book of Lamentations.  

If our circumstances damage our trust and faith in God, that can bring on even more grief and discouragement.  

When Jerusalem was destroyed, their temple was destroyed. The place where they gathered and worshipped God was leveled. The massive and beautiful structure represented a God they believed was protecting them.  When that hedge of protection was gone, it created a spiritual battle in their lives.  

There is a spiritual battle taking place for our souls when we experience great loss.  

Satan wants to take our loss and use it against us, telling us that our faith is no good, that our God is of no help, and that we are fools for even believing in God.  

Satan wants to use our loss to stop ministry, slow down progress, impede vision, discourage others, cripple our faith, and cause us to leave the God we love.

I know it would help if suddenly the virus dissipated and left us like the dew leaves the grass shortly after dawn or the fog burns off soon after the sun rises.  

I know our spirits would rise if the circumstances would suddenly change.  

However, sometimes things happen that cannot be undone so easily.  The Jewish exile lasted 70 years.   

Lamentations can help us because Jerusalem was not going to get undestroyed, and the exiles were not going to become unexiled anytime soon.

Even with a vaccine, we need to understand that were are living in a new normal.

Rarely do we have control over all our circumstances. We like to think we are in control of life, but that is an illusion.  

Yes, we can change some things, but many things in our lives are beyond our control. 

The one thing we have control over is how we react to what comes our way.

We must understand that the battle taking place daily is a battle for our minds.  

That means that we need to have enough self-awareness to know what is going on in our minds and seek other perspectives besides our own to maintain good mental health.   

We often think that no one understands us and that no one has ever gone through what we are going through.  

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”  

It can be very helpful to swallow our pride and talk with someone that can offer us a different perspective on our situation.

When you read Lamentations 3, you see a shift in the writer’s perspective, beginning in verse 19.  

It’s as if some he’s seen a counselor for prophets, and he’s worked through his anger, and now he’s beginning to see what he can learn amid the rubble.  

This man who laments is now a man who has hope.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

     the bitterness and the gall.

 20 I well remember them,

     and my soul is downcast within me.

 21 Yet this I call to mind

     and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

     for his compassions never fail.

 23 They are new every morning;

     great is your faithfulness.

 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

     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.

 27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke

     while he is young.

His mind has been set on something different. He is no longer focusing on all that is going wrong in his life. Now he is focusing on the attributes of God that bring him hope.

He says that God’s love does not run out, and His mercy does not dry up. Like the dew, they are created anew every morning.  

He decides that God is all he’s got left, so he’s going to stick with God.  

He believes that waiting quietly on God and sticking it out during tough times are virtues.  

He finds encouragement in solitude, silence, prayer, and waiting.  

He believes in facing your troubles and not running from them. 

Contrary to his former thinking, he now says that God takes no pleasure in making life hard and doesn’t approve of those who make life hard for others.   

Instead of being bitter, this writer believes in trying to get better by taking a look at the way we live and reordering our lives under God. He suggests we do this through repentance and honest conversation with God. 

Please note that nothing in Jerusalem had changed except the heart of Jeremiah.

If you have come with a prayer for God to change your life’s circumstances this morning, that’s not a wrong prayer, but the better prayer might be to ask God to change how you are reacting to the circumstances. 

In Psalm 73, the Psalmist was lamenting as to the reason why he had worked so hard to keep his heart pure. 

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure 

and have washed my hands in innocence.

14 All day long I have been afflicted,

and every morning brings new punishments.

16 When I tried to understand all this, 

it troubled me deeply 

17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; 

then I understood their final destiny.

The circumstances around this person had not changed; only his heart had changed.

We all sing laments. Laments are good. God encourages us to be honest and to voice our griefs to him. This is the reason for a book in the Bible called “Lamentations.” 

However, God doesn’t want us to live every day with a lament. 

This is the reason there are also books called Gospels. 

There’s good news. The Lord wants us to know the good news available to us through Jesus.  

I remind you of the time that Lazarus died, a friend of Jesus. 

The sisters of Lazarus, also friends of Jesus, sent for him. 

Martha and Mary believed Jesus could heal their brother. 

But Jesus arrived late. Lazarus was dead by the time Jesus came.  

Upon seeing Jesus, both of them expressed to Jesus their disappointment that he had not come sooner. They lamented that Jesus could have healed him had he arrived in time.

Even so, Jesus asked them to hold onto their faith because their brother would rise again.  

He said to Martha, 

25 “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-27)

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb three days after he had died, many more believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

When Jesus came out of the tomb three days after he died that was the beginning of our victory over everything that brings destruction upon our lives. 

That was the day that God said, “Hope is alive, now and forever.” 

Today, if you are grieving, there is the book of Lamentations. The author does not hold back in voicing his laments to God.  You are also free to express yours. But the author also found hope even amid the rubble of the city.

There was much weeping at the foot of the cross by the women as they watched Jesus die, and the disciples were nowhere to be found, except for John.  

Their laments were held in secret as they ran for their lives.

But after the women announced they had seen Jesus, the disciples ran to the tomb on Easter morning to see for themselves if the news were true.  

If you are prone to wander, I encourage you to run to the empty tomb.   Trust in the risen Lord, because without Jesus, the last song everyone will sing will be a song of lament.  

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