“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’ ” (Lamentations 3:16-18)
Lamentations is a book chronicling the grief of one who has observed the aftermath of the day of the LORD as promised in Zephaniah. And we have come to the point in Zephaniah where we should indeed lament such a future. For the people have refused God and have thus become defiled, rebellious, and oppressive–fit for God’s purifying blaze of jealous fury. It has been a painstaking report of a very sad state of affairs within the walls of the City of God as well as in the world. But, I wonder, what is it that brings about the lament? Yes, physical suffering is a no-brainer. Change in plans is often a good reason to become unhappy. And more permanent and unfortunate changes can bring about corresponding degrees of sorrow. But what do we know of Judah’s lament?
“Look, O Lord, and see! With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?”
As difficult as this is, why the lament?
Dante Alighieri in his work The Divine Comedy is being escorted through the various circles of Hell by his guide Virgil. Having arrived at a particular region of Hell, Dante begins to weep as he observes the condition of those condemned:
“I certainly wept, supported on one of the rocks of the projecting stone so that my escort said to me:
‘Are you too like the other fools? Here pity is alive when it is dead:
Who is more criminal than he who suffers because he does not like the divine judgment?’”
I believe we are in many ways like Dante as he observes the suffering in Hell. For as we read a book such as Lamentations or Zephaniah we are moved to compassion, sympathy, empathy, perplexity, enmity, and grief in light of the condition and coming destruction of God’s people. And not only God’s people are in view here. After all, we would do well to remember that Israel and Judah are representatives in many ways of the human race. So we find it easy to grieve over that which afflicts us, but difficult to rejoice and find contentment in the Divine will. We become mad at God and tell Him that we don’t like this side of Him (if such a thing could be said reasonably). We question His goodness. We doubt His goodness. O, God is just an angry God. Oh yeah, this is the God of the Old Testament. Thus we join the mob and say, “If God were a loving God, why______________”
But is it right to value lament at the expense of the Divine will?
Is it right to mourn for your circumstance with real tears and pain and not for your callousness toward of God and His perfect will?
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
“We are afflicted in every way…” 1Cor 4:8
“Yet is was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief…” Isa 53:10
“So Jesus said to Peter, ’Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’” John 18:11
Now I’m not suggesting that we find a way to put on a smile in the name of “God’s will” when reading Zephaniah and Lamentations. Pain is painful. But what I want to ask is, what do you do when you observe God speaking and acting in such a way in these books? Or better, what do you do when you consider your life? How much do you suffer because you do not agree with God’s will for your life. Is your case against God stronger and more zealous than your pleasure in His will? I know (trust me) that we are finite beings. Thus we have limitations. Some people may be stronger and more long-suffering than others to be sure–but limited nonetheless. And God’s will has driven the author of Lamentations to despair; to lament. But he doesn’t stay there:
“But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD
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.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”
O Lord, had we our way and opportunity to travel back in time, we would beg the Apostles to not ask you how to pray. For we have been trained to ask of you, “Your will be done.”
Teach us the pleasure in this request and the contentment in your revelation.
Teach us to love you, and to hope in you, and to wait for you…..quietly.