Friday, 5 June 2020

‘We watch the news to know how to Lament’ (Lamentations 1)

This week we have watched scenes on our news programs that should cause us sorrow.  Week after week we have been hearing about the Corona virus and the death that it is bringing in our world.  Now this recurring news cycle has been interrupted by events in America.  There we see racial injustice and civil disorder.  What is going on?  Why are these things happening?  How should we respond?

We watch the news in order to know how to pray (Mark Dever).  We also watch the news in order to know how to lament.  In a sense lament is about being real with God, asking God difficult questions and even bringing him our complaints.  We see lament right through out the book of Psalms and in this amazing little book that we are going to study over the next few weeks.

Background—a people who underestimated the holiness of God

The book of Lamentations has a particular historical context.  God had promised Abraham’s people a land—the land of Canaan.  But the book of Deuteronomy warned them that if they lived in rebellion against God they would be kicked out of this land. 

God patiently persisted with them as they turned to the idols of that land and did what was evil in his sight.  After the reign of King Solomon, the nation was divided in two.  The northern kingdom, called Israel, didn’t listen to God and so they were eventually conquered by the Assyrians.  The southern kingdom, called Judah, didn’t learn from this.  They continue to ignore God.  The prophet Jeremiah called them back to God, but they would not listen.  Instead, they listened to false prophets who said that God would not judge them.  After all their capital was Jerusalem, the home of the temple.  God would not allow that city to be destroyed.  Like so many people today, they underestimated the holiness of God.  They would not accept the idea of a day of judgement.

That day of judgement came.  The Babylonians arrived.  They were the super-power of that time.  For three years the Babylonians surrounded the city as the people starved to death.  Eventually the walls broke, and the city was sacked.  The people were made slaves and exiles.  The temple was now a smouldering heap of ruins.

Now Jeremiah thinks about what he is seeing in his world.  He sees the evidence of sin and the destruction it brings.  He sees devastation and ruin and it breaks his hearts.  He cries out about the loneliness of suffering, the need for God to make things right and then he repents of his own sin.

Suffering is lonely

‘How deserted lies the city, once so full of people.  How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations!  She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave’ (1:1).

There is a dreadful loneliness in this first chapter of Lamentations.  The words ‘no one’ are repeated twenty-two times in its twenty-two verses.  There is no one coming to comfort them.  There is no one coming to their rescue.  They feel abandoned by God.

That is a feeling that many of us have experienced.  In our grief and pain, we can feel terribly lonely.  When we need God most, he can feel most absent.  The Psalms give us permission to cry out with King David, ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22:1).

Don’t forget that Jesus asked the same question from the cross.  He experienced what it was like to be alone in suffering so that we might never truly be alone in our suffering.  To those who trust in him, he promises, ‘I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’  We may feel alone, but we never are forsaken.  The most important thing that we can pray for our suffering friends is that they would know God and that the Holy Spirit would enable them to feel his love.

We need God to make things good

Why do we live in a word of viruses and violence? 

We live in a world of viruses and violence because of human sin.  There was no Corona virus in the Garden of Eden.  There was no violence there.  It was only after humankind had been expelled from that garden that we read of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.  Hatred has been in the human heart ever since.

The events that surround the book of Lamentations echo the removal from Eden.  In the Garden of Eden God’s people were in God’s place.  They rebelled against God and they were expelled.  The result was suffering and death.  Before the Babylonians arrived to destroy Jerusalem, God’s people were in God’s place.  They rebelled against God and they were expelled.  The result was suffering and death.

Read through the opening chapter of Lamentations and you will hear about distress, mourning, desolation, bitter anguish, and grief.  Why did this happen?  The answer to that question is dreadful.  In the middle of verse five we read, ‘the LORD has brought her grief because of her many sins’ (5b).  This was an act of God’s judgement.

Sometimes we suffer as a direct consequence of our sin, but often the relationship between suffering and sin is an indirect one.  Sin removed us from Eden.  Outside Eden is a world of suffering and death.  We all get sick and die.  Those who have died of the Corona virus were no worse than anyone else, but their deaths are a reminder that we are mortal.  One day we will all face the judge of this world.

God has done something to make everything good again.  The old Jerusalem was destroyed, but there is the promise of a new Jerusalem. That new Jerusalem will accompany the return of our Lord.  In that new Jerusalem there will be no racial injustice.  Instead, there will be a multitude too great to number drawn from every nation, tribe, people and language united in worship of the Father and the Son (Revelation 7:9).  There will be no Corona virus or cancer, for death and mourning and pain will have passed away.  We will never feel lonely, for God’s dwelling pace will be with his people (Revelation 21:1-4).

Watch the news and repent

So, Jeremiah looked at his world and lamented.  But he didn’t just identify a problem out there.  He saw a problem within himself.  He brings his lament home and confesses his own guilt.  ‘See, LORD, how distressed I am!  I am torn within, and in my heart, I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious.  Outside the sword bereaves; inside there is only death’ (20).

We loom at our news and we have to bring it home.

It is not just in America that we see prejudice and hatred.  It is in our land too.  We have a history of hatred between those from a cultural Protestant and Catholic background.  Evil has been done but we have been slow to forgive.  We have failed the Biblical injunction to welcome the migrant, and our system of direct provision has often lacked compassion.  The travelling community have been much discriminated against.

The problem lies even closer to home.  The Bible teaches us that the root of every kind of evil lies in the soil of our own hearts.  We deny God’s word if we claim that we have always loved our neighbours as ourselves.  We have despised people in our hearts, assassinated them with our words and withheld our compassion from them.  The gospel frees us to admit our own evil, for while our hearts are wicked, God’s grace is greater than our hearts.  Jesus died for my acts of injustice, my bigotry to those who are different than me and my reluctance to forgive.  We look at the violence on our news and admit, ‘I too have been most rebellious.’ 

Conclusion—lament and hope

Don’t stop watching the news.  It teaches us how to pray and how to lament.  We should be praying for the victims of injustice and we also pray for those who have committed the injustice.  We look forward to Jesus’ perfect day of justice and we thank him that he has dealt with the injustice we have committed.  We remember our own sin, but don’t despair because we are forgiven and Christ now dwells within us, transforming us by his presence.  There will always be violence in this world by we look forward to an eternal time of peace.  We see the hatred and know that people need to grasp the love of Christ. 

We believe that what this hate-filled world needs more than anything else is the good news of Jesus and the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.

‘Lord God enable us to speak to a sinful world with the humility of forgiven sinners, the love of those who have encountered Jesus and the hope of those who seek your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

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