OUR GOD IS SO GOOD
Dear friends in Christ,
Have you ever gotten into a Bible Trivia contest about the book of Lamentations? No? Me either. It is not a most prominent book found in the Bible. In case you do, let me give you some fast facts. When the Hebrew manuscripts of the book were translated into Greek (that was called the Septuagint), the book was called the “Tears of Jeremiah.” When the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, was translated into Latin (it was called the Vulgate), the book of Lamentations was called “The Lamentations of Jeremiah.” That ought to give you a win at Trivia, don’t you think?
The book of Lamentations was written as Hebrew poetry. There are twenty two verses in chapters 1, 2, 4, 5. There are twenty two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. In Hebrew each verse starts with a consecutive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. What about chapter three? There are sixty six verses in chapter three. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet begins three consecutive verses. That’s Hebrew poetry. It is called acrostic. You were just given enough information to win another game of Trivia.
But let’s face it, the form the Bible is not nearly as important as the substance. What Jeremiah educates us with today is good instruction for our lives: Our God is So Good; 1) That is his nature, 2) He is even good to us in hardship.
There is a reason why the Book of Lamentations is called what it is. During the time of Jeremiah Jerusalem and the land of Judah disintegrated. Humanly speaking, God called Jeremiah to a thankless task. Jerusalem was so morally bankrupt and so unfaithful to the LORD, Jeremiah was to tell them that Babylon would conquer them very soon. When they did he told them to simply submit. God was going to chastise them with seventy years of captivity where the people would be living in exile for seventy years in exile. In Jerusalem that message was interpreted as Jeremiah was a traitor. A Bible commentator wrote about Jeremiah, “The prophet’s sermons met with intense opposition from a society fanatically addicted to idolatry. The brave prophet, however, discharged his ministry despite continual persecution and danger of death.”
The book of Lamentations is a lament of what a deserted Jerusalem would be like. “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are on her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile. She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.” Have you seen photos of cities where Isis is or has been? Have you seen photos of London after the German Blitz? That was the name applied by British journalists to the heavy and frequent bombing raids carried out over Britain in the Second World War. Germany bombed London for 57 consecutive days. It was known as the Battle of Britain. London was rubble and dust. Jerusalem had been that 25 centuries earlier. Jeremiah lamented.
Yet in chapter three he writes, “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.” But don’t these words sound like a contradiction coming in the middle of Lamentations? If God is so merciful why did all this happen? If God is so good why was Jerusalem in such a mess?
God gets blamed for a lot, doesn’t he? Humans make a mess of things and God gets the blame. But that’s what sinful human beings do. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they didn’t want to accept personal responsibility for what they had done. Remember Adam? That woman you gave me, she made me do it! How about Eve? “Devil made me do it!”
Every day we hear horrible stories of sin causing so much heartache. Just yesterday a toxicology lab found that a grandmother caused the death of her nine month old grandchild by feeding the baby meth. The lab is so busy that it took 150 days to figure it out. Now the grandmother is gone. Did God shoot up the night club a couple of weeks ago? Hey, put the blame where it belongs. People are so thoroughly sinful. Satan is real and loves the damage he can cause. Don’t blame God for the evil.
Our God would rather love than hate. In fact Scripture says that “God is love;” it doesn’t says “God is hate.” He would rather be compassionate than punish. Even in their hardship Jeremiah says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.”
The Hebrew nation was chosen to have the title of “God’s people,” but how many times did they turn their backs to the LORD? Read about their history. Yet God did not destroy them. Because of the LORD’S great love they were not consumed.
The words translated “great love” is a single word in Hebrew. Hebrew linguists say the Hebrew word can mean “great love, kindness, mercy, pity, favor, goodness, lovingkindness.” One phrase I found that I particularly liked was this: “God’s self-forgetting love.” He puts his people first. The love depends on the lover and not the lovee. The love depends on God and comes from God.
Jeremiah continues and says that his great love is “new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Contrary to some thinking these days, I believe that there is a difference between the boys and the girls. I believe in general that women love new things and doing new things. Women like surprises. I don’t believe that about men. Men love ruts. There are no surprises in ruts where we need to make adjustments.
The truth is every day is different. Different things can and do happen. There are new situations, new circumstances, new problems, new challenges to face. God’s love is there each day to help us face those challenges. There is a reason God’s people call their pastor when they get a bad diagnosis, or a telephone call they really didn’t want. They call pastor to give them words that reassure them that even when we hurt God does not cease to love.
“I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” When the Children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land, the Lord gave each tribe a portion of land in which to live and develop. Their portion of land was to be a blessing. The LORD who is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent gives us portion of himself. He lives in us. Our bodies are temples of his Holy Spirit. What a relief that is. He is not like the phone company that puts us on hold to take care of matters first. He never leaves us. How he is able to do that, is a mystery, but God is God. He is always aware of the challenges we face. He is always aware of the challenges that each of us face. That’s why Jeremiah says, “Therefore I will wait for him.”
Let me switch gears here. All of this may sound fine and dandy speaking about God’s love when you are looking from the outside in. As a pastor, I have been with the empty shell of Mom or Dad or husband or wife. I spoke the truths of God’s Word that are intended to comfort and reassure, but I was still on the outside. Yet, I have also been at the end of the phone call that you don’t want to ever have. I was there when the ambulance came to take Judy to the hospital and other family trials. I am not saying this for sympathy’s sake, but to acknowledge that all will experience trials from the inside too. As long as we live in this sin scarred world that is the truth. “Only through much tribulation will we enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Even in allowing personal affliction to come to us, the LORD uses it for good purposes. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” So often the person who is afflicted with a real test reacts vocally and violently to what happens. He starts “swinging” at everything – even at the Lord himself. I believe it to be a truth that humanity doesn’t have a clue how tragic it was when Adam and Eve sinned and the damage it has done to the course of the history of this world.
There is also a truth that many people learn. The conscience can really be jolted when something tragic takes place and people start thinking about the one who created them. It is amazing how people start bringing the LORD into their conversations and the need to have stronger ties with him. You know what? That’s good, isn’t it?
But instead of blaming with the tongue or shaking the fist, “it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” The Bible tells us when the tower of Siloam tumbled over the disciples asked what the people had done to deserve that punishment. The Lord Jesus rebuked them for thinking such things. “Unless you repent, you too will perish.” It is good to wait quietly and contemplate your own relationship with the LORD and not judge others.
Jeremiah also said, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.” This last week was the NBA Basketball draft players are drafted by teams to negotiate contracts to play for them. There was a player by the name of Buddy Hield who had an interesting story. He was born in the Bahamas, one of seven children. His family was so poor that all seven children slept in one bed. He learned hardship early. He is going to make millions of dollars and was asked by the reporter what he was going to do with his millions. He had two answers: He was going to give to his church and he wanted to buy his mother a new house. Awesome, don’t you think? A young man who bore the yoke early in life. People say that he was one of the most well-liked players in college basketball. Bearing the yoke early made him a mature man of God.
Going through trials is a blessing. When Jeremiah says, “Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.” It is a humbling experience but a gift of God to go through an incident in life where God drives us to our knees. It is good to have the pride driven from us. It is a gift from God to be taught to look up to whom our help really comes from. That is a product of God’s mercy. That’s a blessing.
Many years ago in Western Montana, a stage coach was caught in some freezing temperatures in the dead of winter. A mother and her infant son were the only passengers in the stage coach. In spite of extra clothing and blankets, the fatal drowsiness that precedes death began to settle over the mother as she held her baby close to her. The driver stopped the stagecoach and took the baby away from the mother and then dragged the woman out of the coach and shook her violently until she partially awakened. The driver sprang to the seat of the stage coach and started to drive away. When the mother saw the coach speeding away, the horror of losing her child banished her drowsiness. She started in mad pursuit. Her blood began to circulate. Her life was saved. Without that seemingly cruel treatment she probably would have died. I think you see the point.
When I go to the hospital I am always reminded that the natural position of people who are sick is to be flat on the back and looking up. Appropriate, don’t you think? Looking up! Sometimes the LORD must put us flat on our backs to teach us the lesson. Yes, God is so good. That is his nature; he even shows it in the challenging times.