“But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Perhaps the most notable lamenter in all of Scripture is Jeremiah, known as the “weeping prophet.” As a prophet and a priest, he lived in the tension of representing God and the people. The people were unfaithful to God, and would not heed the prophet’s warning. He longed for them to repent, but he could see the judgment of God coming. There would be no deliverance, only captivity and exile.
The book of Lamentations captures the pain and sorrow and prayer that are bound up in the heart of the one who weeps for his beloved city. In the first chapter, we see the plight of Jerusalem. She has been ransacked, and left desolate in shame. Her people have been enslaved by the enemy. There is no rest for their eyes, nor bread for their stomach. They are reaping the destruction of the sins they had sown. Jeremiah knows it is just, but he is also one of them: “You have brought the day you announced; now let them be as I am … for my groans are many, and my heart is faint” (1:21-22).
It is an honest view of things. The futility of creation and the injustice of our world are ultimately products of the fall. We are products of the fall, and some of our suffering is the Lord’s discipline. Our sin is ever before us, and we cannot say we deserve to be spared.
In the second chapter of Lamentations, “The Lord has become like an enemy … he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation” (2:5).
The Apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question: “If God is for us, then who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). But what about when it feels like God is against us? Then who could be for us, and how could it possibly matter? It is an unbearable thought, one that prompted Jeremiah to question God: “With whom have you dealt thus?” (2:20). In other words, why must we suffer as no one has ever suffered? It was a desperate interrogation met only by deafening silence.
In chapter three, Jeremiah has lost all hope, the fount of words and tears bone dry (3:16- 18). But then, “having poured all of himself out in lament, he finds in his emptiness a greater hope than he could have imagined: the surprising hope of hesed” (Michael Card). Cherish this oasis in the wilderness of Lamentations: “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 your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (3:20-25). None of us would choose exile, but Jeremiah says, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (3:26).
Lent is a season of waiting, and it is hard to engage these heavy themes week after week. We are not accustomed to this kind of burden. Our soul is impatient for Easter, but Jeremiah says we need to sit in our lament for a while. Waiting, even when we don’t feel God’s presence, has a way of teaching us this important truth: “The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (3:31-33).
We must learn this first-hand, so that we will “not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6).
What are you waiting for?
How is God using that to draw you near to himself?
Where are you, O God? We are lost in the night; have you cast us from your presence? Temptations surround us; their masks grin through the darkness. We run from them, but which way should we go? Where can we hide when all lies in shadow? Have mercy on us, O God. Our eyes are swollen from tears; our bones are cold with fear; our souls have been broken—do you not hear, Lord? Save us! According to your steadfast love, answer us! Do not hide your face, but draw near and redeem us!