For the Love of God, Volume 2/August 26
From Gospel Translations
1 Samuel 18; Romans 16; Lamentations 3; Psalm 34
IT IS DIFFICULT TO DECIDE whether the first part of Lamentations 3 describes the experience of an individual (perhaps Jeremiah), or if the individual is a figure representing the entire nation as it has been forced into catastrophic defeat, poverty, and exile. Several lines favor the former view (e.g., 3:14, where the individual has become the laughingstock “of all my people” rather than of the surrounding peoples). The book as a whole, and the plural “we” that dominates most of the second half of this chapter, slightly favor the second view.
But more important than deciding this issue is the striking way in which hope or confidence twice break out in the midst of the most appalling distress. The first instance is in 3:22-27. Despite the horrible devastation, the writer says, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (3:22). Their sins merit more judgment than they are facing. They might have been wiped out. Only the Lord’s mercy prevented that from happening. However great their sufferings, the fact that they still exist testifies to the Lord’s graciousness toward them. God’s mercies renew themselves in our experience every day (3:23). Besides, the faithful will surely insist that what they want the most is not the Lord’s blessings but the Lord himself: “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (3:24). This is a moral stance: it signals the end of the self-sufficiency and self-focus that thought it could thumb its nose at God. For this writer, the chastening is having its desired effect: it is driving people back to God.
The second block of hope is a retrospective on the preliminary ways in which the Lord has already answered (3:55-57), and which then becomes a plea for vindication (3:58-64). The stark simplicity of the first of these two passages is profoundly compelling, the heritage of many believers who have passed through dark waters: “I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’ You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear’” (3:55-57). The prayer for vindication that follows (3:58-64) must not be reduced to bitter vengeance. If God is just, then in the same way that he has chastened his own covenant people, he must mete out justice to those who have cruelly attacked others—even if it is that very attack that God has providentially deployed to chasten his own people. God himself elsewhere insists on this same point (e.g., Isa. 10:5ff.).