Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Suffering and lament

Jeremiah - Weeping Prophet by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
"Jeremiah"  by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Lamentations 1:1-22

TO CHEW ON: "Judah has gone into captivity
Under affliction and hard servitude;
She dwells among the nations;
She finds no rest;
All her persecutors overtake her in dire straits." Lamentations 1:3

Lamentations is a book of laments. Four of its five poems are acrostics, perhaps the writer Jeremiah's poetic way of exploring his feelings of grief from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Jeremiah was mourning the fall of Jerusalem and with it the kingdom of Judah. Second Kings and Second Chronicles tell the story of her moral decline. Despite prophet warnings, the nation has continued downward, perhaps feeling too secure in God's promises of ultimate protection. Finally after a starving siege by the Babylonian army, Jerusalem fell, the city was destroyed, the temple burned, and all but her poorest  citizens marched into exile in Babylon. So Jeremiah weeps.

Some of Lamentation's themes help us understand and deal with our own griefs. (Themes are suggested by the "Introduction to Lamentations" in my Bible, by Roy Edmund Hayden, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, pp. 1037-1038):

1. Their suffering was the result of their sin (Lamentations 1:5, 8, 18, 20).
2. Their suffering was seen as coming from God rather than from men (Lamentations 1:13,15).
3. Their suffering could direct them to God.
4. Suffering, tears, and prayers belong together (Lamentations 1:12, 16, 20).

The reasons we suffer may be different from the reasons Jeremiah and the Israelites suffered. We live under a different covenant where even blatant sinners may not experience punishment for sins until after death (2 Peter 2:4-10). But often we are forced to live the consequences of past actions. And suffering is also allowed to discipline us (Hebrews 12:3-17).

In a personal application part of Lamentation's introduction, R. E. Hayden shares some helpful thoughts about suffering with us:

"We need to submit to what God is doing and attempt to learn from the experience. If it is God's discipline, it will last as long as is necessary. There is no quick-fix solution to some of these problems and no easy way out. Discipline will direct us to God, drive us to prayer, and bring us into submission. We need it" - R. E. Hayden, "Introduction to Lamentations," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1039 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, I hate suffering as much as Jeremiah did. When trouble comes, may it drive me to You. Help me then to learn all the lessons I need to learn. When I am not suffering, help me to be sensitive and comforting to those around me who are. Amen.

MORE: Handel's Messiah Alert

G. F. Handel set words from Lamentations 1:12 ("Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow")  to music in his oratorio Messiah.

"Behold and See" (Handel's Messiah Part 2 - #30)


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