Lamentations makes us realize that our efforts can never be the basis of our hope. Hope can only come from outside.

As we end 2015, we’d like to be able to face 2016 with hope. The question is, what’s the basis for your hope? Is it your determination to do better? Is it somebody’s promise that you’d be promoted? Is it founded on past performance? Those may be valid reasons; but they don’t carry foolproof guarantees. We need something more reliable upon which to build our lives.

The book of Lamentations was written in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem. As the title implies, it is a collection of 5 poems mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exile of the people. It explores the devastating pain of being under God’s wrath. God, who had been their covenant Lord, and who had been their protector and provider over the years was now acting as their enemy [3:1-9]. Such was his wrath toward them that he is compared to ferocious wild animals lying in wait [3:10-11] and to a hunter [3:12-13]. To make matters worse, he knows that God’s anger is well deserved because of their sin [1:8,18]. So he calls on his people to repent [3:37-42] but he is mindful that God would not hear their prayers because he knew their “repentance” was superficial. So he bears the shame and anguish of their collective guilt [3:14-20].

The exile was a sobering revelation of God’s righteous and holy character that would not tolerate sin. The privileged status of being God’s chosen people is not license to sin; God will not be manipulated by sacrifices; he would rather destroy the temple than bear the insult of idolatrous worship. The same is true for us. God’s grace does not excuse complacency or neglect. Sin damages our relationship with God - and that is why it is so heinous.

All this sounds depressingly pessimistic rather than hopeful. But Lamentations makes us realize that our efforts can never be the basis of our hope. Hope can only come from outside. That’s why we need to hear words of Lam. 3:20-24:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.”

In the midst of their distress, he realizes that the fact that they are still alive is an expression of God’s hesed - his great covenant love. By rights, they deserved to die because of their sin against God. But because his love is so great, he shows mercy by sparing their lives. Hard as their lives are, he recognizes that God’s compassion has still not failed. In fact, he has continued to be faithful. On one hand, he is faithful in that what they are undergoing are the covenant curses that God said would fall on them if they were unfaithful to him. He is simply keeping his word [Deut. 28:15-68]. On the other hand, he is faithful in that he persists in relationship with them, for he is not destroying but disciplining them [3:27]. He doesn’t take pleasure in their pain [3:31-33]. He afflicts them in order to drive them back to him. Thus, because God has heard his prayer in the past [3:55-57] he can cry out to God to vindicate his name by executing justice on their enemies [3:58-66].

The author’s point is that the basis of our hope is nothing less than the unchanging character of God. He is the righteous God who is ever faithful, showing covenant love and compassion to his people. We might well ask “How can God be both righteous and merciful?” And we see the answer when we look beyond Lamentations to the cross, where Jesus paid for our sins and rose and again so that his righteousness would be credited to us. It is because he gave his life for us, bearing the covenant curses we deserve, that we are sure of God’s love and compassion. Because of Jesus, God will never let go of us.

And because of this, true faith will desire more than God’s blessings - to hope in God is to desire God himself [3:25, note the parallelism between hoping in God and seeking him]. As John Piper puts it, “True faith is being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus Christ.” That’s why the author comforts himself by reminding himself “The Lord is my portion.” According to D.A.. Carson, “This is a moral stance; it signals the end of the self-sufficiency and self-focus that thought it could thumb its nose at God.” So as we face 2016, let’s face it with confidence, knowing that our covenant Lord is faithful; he has given us nothing less than himself. So let us desire him above all as we live for him and him alone in 2016 and beyond.



Topics: Christian Living