Lamentation is defined as a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. In this time Israel has been through pain and destruction. Lament is a human response to suffering before God who can stop the suffering. Lamenting pushes us to be helpless before God who can rescue us and bring us out of our situation.
Have you ever been in deep sorrow? The kind where all you want to do is disappear or break into a thousand pieces. Those times are hard to say the least. I know the same feeling more than I would like to admit.
But I have realized that in those moments, the best thing we can do is go to God. Bring him our lamentations, our sorrows.
This is what Lamentations is. In this book Israel is bringing their sorrows to God and finding peace in him. They have nothing left after the destruction and pain brought by the Babylonians, yet in Lamentations 3 it says this.
“Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood, and the poison. I continually remember them and have become depressed. Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say the Lord is my portion therefore I will put my trust in him.”
There is joy in the mourning! These people had nothing, had suffered, and yet they have all this love and trust in God and his faithfulness. Because God is good, and he knows our sorrows. He wants us to go to him with every little heartache just as the Israelites did!
There is hope in our lamentations and love for our suffering because God will use it for good.
It is encouraging to know the good God we serve, who brings joy in the mourning. Who leads us through battle and into victory.
This is the best part.
“For the Lord will not reject us forever. Even if he causes suffering, he will show compassion according to the abundance of his faithful love. For he does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind.”
I love this part, but it is a little bit of a tough pill to swallow. God is compassion, love, and peace, but he also brings along testing and affliction when he knows we need it. Those are the hard times. But we are strong through those hard times, knowing that God is there to guide.
We won’t know how long pain may last. But what is important is not letting our grief stop us from serving God. Our pain is what we can use to reach others with God’s love.
Read Psalm 118, or read it again. What is this Psalm all about? What is the refrain? “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” God’s people look back on what has happened in their past and speak of God’s grace goodness and love. The Psalmist says that “he” (we don’t know the psalmist, but we will use he as the pronoun) speaks from his own perspective. The people from all nations were against him, but GOD is for him. In verse 6 he asks the great question, “What can humans do to me?” If God is for us, then who or what could ever stop us? God will save and send protection and salvation. The author says that this does not only hold true for him but it’s true for ALL of God’s people. The community asks God to save. “O LORD, do save, we ask you!” And when God answers, salvation, grace, and protection are for both the individual and the community. Upon his people he gives light (v.27) and to the individual he has become his strength, his song, and his salvation. (V. 14)
Now, compare that with Ezekiel 24:15-27 (go read it). All the words God has said in Psalm 118 don’t seem to make sense in light of Ezekiel 24. Ezekiel is God’s servant. He is a “good man” speaking to the “bad people” of Jerusalem. So what does God do?
God kills Ezekiel’s wife.
You may say “Jake, that’s extreme. God doesn’t kill people. He just allows her to die.” I could agree with you, maybe, if all we had was Ezekiel 24:18. Ezekiel reports the fact that his wife dies and he wasn’t allowed to mourn. But just two verses earlier, God explains that HE is taking Ezekiel’s desire with a blow. God killed her. An innocent wife of a good man, to teach bad and rebellious men.
Does Ezekiel say, “His love endures forever?”
Do we expect him to?
How do we reconcile this?
First, let me start with the fact that Ezekiel, his wife, and all the prophets recognized that their life was totally forfeit to the God who had power over life and death. I don’t think we should think of Ezekiel’s wife as an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire, no matter how much her story may suggest it. Ezekiel knew that everything he owned and everyone he loved was ultimately owned by God and loved by him more.
Second, YES love. The love of God is the most fundamental element of his being. “God is love.” “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son.” “What great love the father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God!”
“His love endures forever!”
So, the primary text is not Ezekiel but the Psalm. The Psalm prescribes who God is in love. And even there, we get our answer for Ezekiel.
“The Lord has disciplined me severely.”
Words alone weren’t cutting it with the people. They had heard the voice of the prophets again and again to return to the Lord. In Ezekiel 24, God is done telling them what they will experience, but will show them WHAT he will do. He was going to take his own sanctuary away from the sinning, unfaithful Israelites. He was going to discipline them. But they were not going to mourn even the presence of God being taken from them. Ezekiel showed them that they were going to lose the presence and be totally OK with it. They needed to see it, because it proved that God is the one in control.
Finally, we need to recognize that too often we are worried too much about this life. Ezekiel’s wife may not have wanted to die, but she trusted in the Lord, as did her husband. Psalm 118 itself reminds those of us who are faithful followers of Christ that this is not the end. The stone that the builders rejected that has become the chief cornerstone. That one is Jesus of Nazareth. This work of God is marvelous in our eyes. God has made our days, our night, our beginning, and our ending. But for the faithful, this life is NOT the end. God has promised that the one who came in the name of the Lord to the shouts of “Hosanna”, or “Save us”, that same Jesus will be the one who comes in power to raise the living and the dead and give the reward to those who love him.
Goodness for forever.
Since God’s love endures forever, he promises those he loves will endure forever.
So, give thanks to the Lord for he is good.
His love endures forever.
(P.S. Not part of the main devotional text, but for those who are going through or know someone going through pain, read on.
This post may have made you uncomfortable. Let me add the following thoughts.
Quick summary of my points:
Ezekiel’s wife had given God her life
God’s love, not his judgement or anger, defines his divine actions
We limited humans are too worried about the short time here when we have eternity of joy through faith
However, let me be clear : these are not the words you share with the hurting, nor will these be your first thoughts in pain. Death is an enemy that God will destroy. We are to weep with those who weep. Understanding Ezekiel in light of the Psalm 118 is our ideal, but it may take time. If you are not in a place of pain, do NOT tell the suffering to “just get over it”. Do NOT say that God took someone’s loved one away. If you are in pain, I am not saying God took your loved one or that their life did not matter.
Ezekiel’s wife’s situation is not the way scripture speaks about every death.
But God loves everyone, and God wishes that none perish; God is a God of life, wholeness, and health. One day, creation will again reflect the life, wholeness and health of it’s Creator, but it’s not there yet. But God may use even his enemies, death, brokenness, sickness, and pain, to bring about a greater goodness in spite of their wickedness. If you are suffering, in need of someone to hear your story, just be with you in your pain, I would encourage you to reach out to a pastor or trusted friend and ask them to listen. If you need someone to listen who doesn’t know you from Adam, but is willing to walk through your pain, please reach out to the author (Jake Ballard) via https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336. You can also find his contact information at TimberlandBibleChurch.org.
May God bless show his love to you in the midst of whatever pain you experience.)
When we began 1st Chronicles two days ago we likened the beginning of this book to a family reunion. It was written for the people of God who were returning to the Holy Land after years of captivity and living amongst foreign people who did not worship God (which had been their punishment for forsaking God). Now, they were returning and receiving a history lesson on what it means to be God’s people. If we listen in, I believe we can also benefit greatly from this lesson.
In today’s reading our list of genealogies is broken up in chapter 4 with a passage about Jabez. In two short verses we learn: “he was more honorable than his brothers”, “his mother had named him” – PAIN (in Hebrew Jabez sounds like pain), he prayed to be blessed, “and God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9,10). Makes you wonder why we don’t have any babies today named Epidural?
Seriously though, I hurt for this man Jabez. It doesn’t seem very nice of his momma to pass along the brief pain she felt at childbirth (I know, in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel brief) to her son to bear the name PAIN the rest of his life. Can you imagine the jokes he heard from the neighborhood boys? We also know it can be very painful growing up with less than honorable brothers.
It could have been a rough life for poor PAIN/Jabez. BUT – it wasn’t. Even though he had a few strikes against him in his early years, he knew to cry out to God. And, perhaps because of Jabez’s honor, and I am guessing his heart was in the right place, God was ready, willing and able to fulfill his request.
Just what was his request? “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from PAIN.” It is a touching prayer knowing his background. Other versions have slightly different interpretations – I especially love the NKJV, “Keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” It sounds so much more noble. But, either way, he cried out to God and God “granted his request”.
Does anyone else get a vision of a genie, or is it just me? Jabez cried out (with a list of 4-5 wishes) and his wishes were granted. Poof. Who wouldn’t take a God like that! I can fill a whole book with my wishes and cry out to God and all my wishes will be met. Never mind what God requires of His children. Never mind the timeline and big picture that God is working with in His infinite wisdom. Never mind the growth, compassion and character that develops in the midst of trials. I want no pain. I want it now. Give it to me, God.
I would love to read the rest of Jabez’ story – the daily details, his life’s timeline. I highly doubt that he never felt ANY more pain – never stubbed his toe, never lost a friend or family member, never needed to cry out to God again. But, we know that God was faithful. He blessed Jabez and He answered his prayer.
God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of Jabez. He wanted them to know of God’s faithfulness and the good gifts that He brings to His children who are honorable and cry out to Him. Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of Jabez. God takes us in our pain and gives us blessings. God is good. God is powerful. God is love. God is faithful.
BUT don’t be fooled. God is no magic genie. In fact, He is so much more.
Our history lesson continues. Keep reading, in chapter 5 (verses 23-26) we meet the half-tribe of Manasseh. They were God’s people. God had already fought their battles and given them land. They had prospered and become numerous. Their leaders were “brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families” (1 Chronicles 5:24). It sounds so good. It looks like they were leading a charmed life. God’s goodness and power have provided for these people. We see God’s blessings – but do they? NO! “But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land” (1 Chronicles 5:25). In their pampered state they turn from the One who has blessed them. They leave their Provider and Protector to run after false gods. They chase what the ungodly society calls good – rather than clinging to their Creator, the God of their fathers.
And, their foolishness comes with consequences. They don’t get more wishes granted. What they have is taken away. God uses the Assyrians to remove them – to place them into exile in a foreign land. They have earned themselves a Big Time-Out which will last several years, until God prepares the way for the exiles to return.
God wanted the returning Israelites to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh. He wanted them to know of the serious consequences that He puts into action when His children flaunt their waywardness. Likewise, God wants you and me and the world today to know the story of the half-tribe of Manasseh. God has given blessings, how will we respond? God is just. God is powerful. God is faithful. His loving kindness requires our faithfulness, too.
Today’s beatitude is like a living enigma in my mind and without a living God makes absolutely no sense. Matthew 5.4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The word mourn can also mean sadness. Let’s attempt to read in our definition of blessed from yesterday. Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted. The idea that I am happy when I am mourning is a real problem in my head. I don’t know about yours.
Have you ever had a friend who was out to accomplish something great and they finally accomplish it? Through this whole process you are proud of them for suffering and enduring and getting to the other side. It is awesome to see your friends succeed. It’s great when you get to celebrate those events and successes with them.
Now when they are hurting and in the middle of this great struggle it is really hard. Sometimes in the middle of life you don’t see how it is going to work out well for you and all you know is that your soul hurts and you don’t see any reprieve. Yet when someone else is going through one of those times it is so easy to see the end for them. When someone else is trying to go through a hard time or is pushing through a hard time it is simple for us to say, “It will all be worth it” or, “You will get through this.”
The reason why it can be easy for us to say those things is we are seeing the end for our friends. Outside of that pain, suffering and sadness we are able to see clearly that it will all be alright or what they are going through will at least be worth it. Sadness, pain and suffering can distort our view and cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture and our hope.
To be completely honest… you will suffer in this life. If you live as a Christian you will probably suffer more. There will be plenty of mourning and sadness. Sorry guys.
The thing I cling to and the thing that allows people to get through extraordinarily challenging things and accomplish great things is they cling to hope and draw near to God. I will say it again. They cling to HOPE and draw near to GOD.
I believe that God will comfort us in the here and now when we pray for it. Sometimes, however, I can pray and still feel empty and sad. So, what do we do then? How do you continue on?
2 Corinthians 4.17-18 says “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
We aren’t living for this world. We are living for a world that we cannot see yet. We suffer through things that we don’t fully understand. The implication of what we are living for is a kingdom that hasn’t yet come. There is no suffering in vain as long as you are walking with God through it. The reason our mourning and sadness makes us blessed is because it isn’t for nothing. I know one day God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no mourning and sadness and we will get to see God in all his glory face to face (Rev. 21.4).
I find my comfort in those things when this world has left me mourning. Don’t let the pain and suffering you are going through distract you from the great comfort you have hope in.
This week we are looking at seven different types of psalms. The first was a psalm of wisdom and the second was a royal psalm. The third type of psalm is a lament psalm.
Life is not always easy. I know that’s a real shocker for most of you but it is true. Bad things happen. People fail tests. Relationships go sour. People get hurt physically, emotionally, spiritually. Sometimes people suffer in unimaginable ways and sometimes people die. Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express our pain during difficult times. Sometimes this is true for individuals and sometimes it’s true from communities.
There are musical styles that express pain. The blues are all about coping with pain. Taylor Swift has written a song about every breakup she’s ever had. Play many a country music song backwards and you get your truck back, your dog back and your woman back.
God doesn’t expect us to ignore pain or paint a pretend smile on our face and act like everything’s great when it isn’t. Fortunately, God provides us a language to help us work through pain. Psalms of lament. The Bible is full of psalms of lament both for individuals and for communities. The book of Lamentations is an entire book of laments after the fall of Jerusalem and their exile into Babylon.
Psalm 22 is an example of a psalm of lament. I won’t include the whole psalm here but I’ll share enough for you to get the idea:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
This is a person who is clearly in pain. Their pain is multiplied by the fact that they feel that God is no-where to be found. “God, where are you?” “God I’m hurting.” “God can’t you see how badly I’m suffering here?” “God, why aren’t you listening to my cry?” “God, I need you, O I need you!”
If these words sound familiar to you, it may be because these are the words that Jesus cried out while he was being crucified. Jesus suffered every way that we suffer and his greatest suffering came when he felt God’s absence. There are times in our lives when God seems so close and so real and those times are wonderful. But there are also times when God feels so very far away. Psalms of lament take our feelings of suffering, of abandonment, of God’s absence and help us to give words to them. It also helps us to know that we are not alone in feeling alone.
9Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
The one who is suffering here pleads their case before God. “You’ve been there my whole life” “I’ve trusted you since I was a baby” “God, come here… I’m scared, I’m all alone.” Whether it is physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain or often a combination of all three, it hurts when you feel like you’re all alone. The Psalms of lament help us to find the words to cry out to God out of a mixture of faith and fear.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
Even though his situation feels hopeless… even though it seems like she is doomed, yet there is hope. As bad as it feels, as alone as she seems, as desperate and lost and needy and broken, there is hope that one day things will be better, that one day there will be a chance to testify about God’s faithfulness.
Bad thing happen to God’s people too. We don’t have to pretend that everything’s great when it’s not. Don’t just read the happy psalms. Just like Jesus committed Psalm 22 to memory so that when he was at the point of deepest agony he had the words to pray his pain to God, learn to pray the psalms of lament, both for yourself and for those you love who may also feel alone in their suffering.
“Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” Proverbs 25:20
Any of us could be forgiven if, by looking at our latest social media feed, we were surrounded by people full of joy living their best life today. It’s easy to see how perfect our friend’s lives appear when viewed one photo, tweet, or snap at a time. It’s a perfect and tailored vision of what their lives are.
The thing is, we have a hard time stopping. We delete our Facebook, shut down our Twitter, and delete Snapchat from our phone. But before long, it’s right back again.
I want to talk about this, because I think that this verb from Proverbs speaks as deeply to how we treat ourselves as to how we treat others.
The more obvious way to read this verse is to see it as a directive to treat others and their pain with the respect it deserves. If someone’s in pain, don’t try to gloss over it. If they’re hurting, quit trying to just make them laugh. Quit telling me to smile.
And I can easily point out a ton of examples of how we see this same message echoed throughout scripture. The best thing that Job’s friends do isn’t to try to tell him how to fix it all, but to sit with him in the ashes and mourn with him. Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. God sent Christ to meet us exactly where we are.
But I want to focus on how we can each steal garments away from ourselves and pour vinegar on our own wounds. Although we can and do find all sorts of crutches in our life, few of them have the alluring power that social media has inspired over the past decade. Why? Because unlike many addictions, social media – when misused – can give us the fleeting sensation of being connected with others without any of the benefits of actually engaging in relationship with them.
Because social media also has the ability to be a transformative tool for actual social engagement. It can help us find a community of friends who will help us bear that load (to help us carry on…get it???). I don’t want you to mistake this as a tirade against social media usage, but rather as a call to reflect on how we should keep it in its proper orientation. Where digital connections enhance and strengthen the bonds you’ve built IRL (in real life), it can provide a way to stay connected in meaningful ways like never before. But if it has become an addiction that keeps us from engaging in the richness of the world around us, then we may find ourselves stripping off our own clothing on a winter’s day.
We need to not only treat others emotional trauma with the kind of respect and “sitting-with-ness” it deserves. But, we need to be attentive to our own emotional needs so that we can feed ourselves with relationships and community that doesn’t just feel engaging, but actually is.
Chapters 15-17 deal with the pain others feel for Judah’s continuous betrayal. God feels sadness when we sin. Jeremiah is frustrated and hurt (physically and emotionally) by this sin. Our sins trap us (just like the enemies of Judah) and change us (16:10-13)
Sin has a deep hold on us. But in chapter 17 Jeremiah reminds us that we can repent.
Repentance is explained in Jeremiah 17:5-8. The difference in being blessed or being left with nothing is determined by our trust.
Do you trust God?
Do you believe that He will take care of you and that His way is better than your way?
Sometimes we feel like we can’t come back from our sin but God knows you can if you trust in Him.
Do you want barrenness (vs. 5,6) or blessing (vs.7,8)?
In yesterday’s reading and today’s portion of the book we find Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to visit him. The trio sit with Job in silence for seven days out of respect for his mourning. On the seventh day, Job speaks, beginning a conversation in which each of the four men shares his thoughts on Job’s afflictions in LONG, poetic statements.
To summarize, Job curses the day he was born, comparing life and death to light and darkness. He wishes that his birth had been shrouded in darkness and longs to have never been born. All his bemoaning only seems to intensify his misery. Eliphaz responds that Job, who has comforted other people, now shows that he never really understood their pain. Eliphaz believes that Job’s agony must be due to some sin Job has committed, and he urges Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agree that Job must have committed evil to offend God’s justice and argue that he should strive to exhibit more blameless behavior. Bildad surmises that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar implies that whatever wrong Job has done probably deserves greater punishment than what he has received.
The one thing I wish in reading the story of Job is that God had actually given Job reasons that made sense to Job. He never did. He simply said, “I am here and I am God and you aren’t.” What I do know from personal experience and from scripture is that God has settled His love for me, regardless of my circumstances. There is no injustice, grief, pain or loss that could ever take away the love that He displayed for me, a hopeless sinner, in giving His Son as my sacrifice. Regardless of what you have lost, as believers in Christ there are two things we always have. You still have Jesus and you still have a choice. Cling to both until God brings you to a peaceful rest.
The book of Job is an emotional rollercoaster. Rider/reader beware when you begin to venture this wild, scary, often windingly frustrating thrill ride. Pretty much everyone in the Book of Job dies except the main characters. But this story is about more than just mass destruction. Don’t get me wrong, the mourning rituals recorded after Job’s entire family dies are fascinating, but the physical destruction in the story leads to quite a collection of major philosophical ponderings that truly stick with the reader. Heavy, confusing stuff. You were warned.
The prologue places us in the land of Uz, not Oz, which is located far away from Israel. The unnamed author reveals no clear historical settings, and it seems as if all of the characters, except one, Elihu, are of any Hebrew origin whatsoever. The reoccurring themes throughout seemingly volley back and forth from the idea of suffering to justice. And by the way, don’t hold your breath, those questions will never get answered. Job will be pondering, reflecting, and VERBALIZING about how fragile and meaningless human life is in repeated fashion throughout.
The saga opens with the author declaring how awesome Job is, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.”(Job 1:3) Wow. That is quite an endorsement. From this point we are ushered into the throne room of heaven in a very odd scene of sorts. The action resembles a court scene of sorts. God, the angels, and Satan are all present arguing the integrity and faith of Job. God gives Satan permission to test Job and the story gets very dark, real quick.
Pain is a central part of the human experience and there is no way around it. The book of Job covers all its pain bases: rashes, boils, and blisters, oh my! Not only does he experience physical pain but also emotional pain. Round that out with a heavy dose of spiritual pain and you can begin to see why Job finds himself at breaking points time and time again asking God why.
By chapter 3 & 4 we are introduced to Job’s “friends.” The reader will quickly discover that with friends like these you wouldn’t really have need of enemies. The three bullies seemingly gang up on Job doing their best to convince him non-stop that he has sinned in some manner and God is simply punishing him for it. While Job is certainly down for the count, his consistent banter back and forth with the trio is mind boggling. Give it a rest Job? Just shut up and let them move on!
Remember how Job renounced God and became an atheist when his entire family died? No? Oh yeah, that’s because that’s not how it goes down. Nor will it ever be. Job makes it through Round 1 pretty successfully, but we find him getting more and more feisty when he finds himself with a rash and infuriating, obnoxious friends. And neither should we. Spoiler alert: God does not owe us explanations, and the sooner we come to terms with that timeless truth the happier we will all be. Tune in tomorrow as we observe the further unraveling of our besieged hero. I promise it will be worth the ride!