God-Oriented Grief and Suffering (Further Thoughts on Lamentations 3)
“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. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:21-26 ESV)
The situation looks bleak from the prophet Jeremiah’s perspective. The Lord called Jeremiah to prophesy about the fall of Jerusalem in the book of Jeremiah, now Lamentations records the prophet’s emotions about the whole painful event.
While Jerusalem certainly deserved judgment, Jeremiah compassionately grieves for the people as God’s wrath is being poured out on them and he mourns as he suffers great loss too.
The book of Lamentations is 5 short chapters written in poetic form and together they cover the devastation of Jerusalem, the Lord’s anger with Judah, the grief of Judah, her humiliation, and a prayer of restoration.
There is much we can learn from the prophet Jeremiah and how he grieved, but I want to focus on the passage mentioned above (Lamentations 3:21-26) and give a few practical comments on how to grieve and suffer well.
Jeremiah’s grief was informed by his doctrine of God.
In our passage, Jeremiah states that the “steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (22-23a) It is here that Jeremiah is declaring something that has always been true of God. He declares God is steadfast. God is love. God is merciful. And God is abundant in these attributes because God is His attributes. That is to say that in the midst of God pouring out His wrath on Jerusalem He still is love. God isn’t wrathful one moment and loving the next. He is His attributes all the time. He never changes.
Malachi affirms the importance of having a good doctrine of God in Malachi 3:6 when the Lord says, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob are not consumed.”
People change. God does not change. And because God does not change, we know that He is trustworthy in even the midst of the most difficult of circumstances. Jeremiah grieved well because it was informed by what he knew to be true of God.
Jeremiah’s grief led him to worship not despair.
After Jeremiah contemplates God’s attributes, he moves toward worshipping God in the midst of his grief. He says, “great is your faithfulness” (23b). Worshipping in the midst of grief isn’t something that just happens. Worshipping the Lord in the midst of grief comes from someone who is already a committed worshipper of the Lord. Jeremiah had the discipline and joy of worshipping God long before he observed and experienced the destruction of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit prepared Jeremiah’s heart to worship in the midst of difficult circumstances. And notice that Jeremiah’s emotions didn’t change once he began to worship and recall God’s past faithfulness. Jeremiah worshipped in the midst of his suffering. His suffering and grief led him toward communion with God, but it did not change his circumstances. Think of Job’s comment “Though he [God] slay me, yet I will trust in him…” (Job 13:15). This is similar to Jeremiah’s thinking and heart posture.
Difficult circumstances do one of two things: drive someone to despair and bitterness or drive someone toward the worship and adoration of the God who holds the universe.
Jeremiah hoped in God, not his circumstances.
Jeremiah says, “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. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (24-26).
Jeremiah didn’t need his circumstances to change before hoped was restored. Jeremiah could be content and still before the Lord in the midst of the most difficult circumstance of his life because his treasure was the Lord. We live in a culture that tells us our satisfaction and joy and happiness and salvation are within us. Jeremiah’s satisfaction, joy, happiness, and salvation rest outside of himself. As a matter of fact, it was outside of time and space. Jeremiah found rest in the one who holds time and space in His hands. Certainly, Augustine agrees with this when he said, “Our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.”