When my children were younger, I used to read to them every night before bed. It was the sweetest, most anticipated part of my day. The great nestling in before the long awaited stretch of…well…silence! Some stories stretched over many nights and were heartwarming and thought provoking, while others were short, laugh out loud crazy tales that had us gigging until our sides hurt. One of the stories that we read over and over again was “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. Maybe it was that my first-born is named Alexander. Maybe it was because we could relate to moving house when we didn’t particularly want to move…again. Maybe it was because we can all relate to having days that don’t seem to go as we had planned or hoped.
In his great poem of lament, Jeremiah expresses the pain of one all too familiar with living through days where all of his hopes have been dashed. Jeremiah’s cry in Lamentations 3 is truly one of despair. He declares in verses 17-18, “My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, ‘My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord.’” I don’t think there is a deeper place of pain to endure than living in the midst of crisis and feeling like all hope from the Lord is lost.
Even the non-believing cry out, “God help me!” in times of crisis. If we can’t cry out to God in our times of deepest need, where can we place our hope?
Jeremiah feels like all hope is lost precisely because he feels God is to blame for all his adversity. And honestly, doesn’t it feel like that sometimes? “If you had only intervened, God, this wouldn’t have happened.” “Why do you allow this suffering, God?” “If you would only reach out and prove yourself, then I might believe in you.”
I love that Jeremiah is brutally honest with God, and it doesn’t stun God in the least. Jeremiah rails, “surely against me He has turned His hand repeatedly all the day…even when I cry out and call for help, He shuts out my prayer.” True, Jeremiah has enjoyed times of deep intimacy with God, so perhaps he has more of a right to this kind of honesty than you or I feel we have. But come on; Jeremiah was devastatingly honest here! Doesn’t it make you expect he will be struck down by lightening?
But God doesn’t strike him dead. He allows Jeremiah to express his deepest despair so that in that place, God might meet him afresh.
Have you ever experienced such sorrow and hardship that you felt more dead than alive?
The picture Jeremiah paints in verses 6-7 reminds me of the ghost of Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’ beloved tale, “A Christmas Carol”. Listen to Jeremiah’s account of his present situation, “In dark places He has made me dwell, like those who have long been dead. He has walled me in so that I cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy.” Can you not picture Jacob Marley roaming the earth, dead not alive, bound in double iron chains, forced to stay in dark places, with no hope of rescue and deliverance? This is the rejection and despair Jeremiah feels from his God.
He continues in verse 9 by declaring that it was with intention that God has blocked all his paths and has in fact made his way unknowable. His declaration, “He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked,” is quite a contrast from King Solomon’s words in Proverbs 3: 5-6 where it is promised that if we trust in the Lord and look to Him for guidance in all things that “He will make (our) paths straight.” How do we carry on faithfully following after God when it appears that He is blocking us at every turn?
And this is not the only reference in the chapter to God seeming to act contrary to a promise given elsewhere in scripture. Again it is Solomon who proclaims that “the name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.” But that’s not exactly Jeremiah’s experience, is it? Jeremiah says that God “has bent His bow and set (him) as a target for the arrow.” Have you ever felt like you were God’s target practice rather than His beloved whom He would protect and keep safe?
Not only does Jeremiah feel like God is blocking his progress and using him for target practice, but he feels like God is intentionally deceiving him. Have you ever felt like that? Like God just couldn’t be trusted? The image I get here is of the Lord approaching Jeremiah in his anguish, offering him something to eat—to nourish and sustain him. And with an open heart and an open hand, Jeremiah takes a mouthful of the food God presents to him. No sooner does he bite down than he realizes he has been deceived. This isn’t food at all. “He has broken my teeth with gravel!” How do you restore relationship with the One who is to be your protector when it appears to your mind that He knowingly deceived you in order to harm you?
Perhaps you have experienced times of unemployment, sickness and disease, financial disaster, estrangement from family or friends, or the death of a loved one. Or perhaps you have even had to endure some terrible combination of all of these challenges at the same time. When we encounter such desolate times that it seems God has removed His hand of blessing from us, it is all too easy to forget what we know of God from scripture and feel like God is actually acting against us.
And when we feel that even God is against us, we can, like Jeremiah, be overcome by a terrible sense of shame because of the destitute state in which we find ourselves. Jeremiah acknowledges that in his present state he has “become a laughingstock to all (his) people.” Like Jeremiah, we see the look of pity in others’ eyes, and wonder if those feelings of pity are not in fact shifting to thoughts of disdain for our impoverished state. After all, doesn’t everyone like a winner?
Jeremiah responds as any of us would. His “strength has perished and so has (his) hope from the Lord.” When we experience devastating loss, where one blow hits after another, our strength will naturally falter. And when it does, it is all too easy to focus on our difficulties and lose any real sense of hope of things ever changing for the better.
In his classic novel “A Separate Peace”, John Knowles observes, “Now, in this winter of snow…I began to know that each morning reasserted the problems of the night before, that sleep suspended all but changed nothing, that you couldn’t make yourself over between dawn and dusk.” Can you relate? Have you ever longed for change but felt hopeless instead?
And then, as if awakening from a very bad dream, Jeremiah interrupts his lament in verses 20-21 as he instructs his soul to speak truth to his mind. Jeremiah declares, “Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.” What is it that Jeremiah’s soul remembers and what is it that his soul recalls to his mind that brings him such hope? Precisely this…
“The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”
When things look bleak, and there appears to be no way out, it is time for our usually less-active soul to speak to our always over-active mind the truth about our God.
Our God is compassionate and faithful, loving and kind beyond all measure. And His mercies are new every morning, just like the manna that would mysteriously appear every morning in the desert for the wandering children of Israel. So while our particular situation may not have changed between dusk and dawn, His mercies are there, fresh, every morning to meet us in that place of suffering, disappointment, and pain.
Jeremiah’s soul reminds his mind one of the greatest promises from God, that the Lord is his portion. This little word is packed with powerful meaning. In Biblical terms, one’s portion is one’s inheritance. When Jeremiah declares that God is his portion, he is reminding himself that he is but a sojourner on earth; his real destiny is his eternal destiny with God. And God has promised Jeremiah an eternal inheritance with Him.
No matter how bleak life may seem, our inheritance in God transcends all else. This is what truly gives Jeremiah hope despite the intense emotional and physical pain and searing loss that he is encountering.
The same promise of an eternal inheritance is available not just to Jeremiah, but to all who believe in the Lord Jesus. And that is our real source of hope.
So when times of suffering, hardship, or disappointment threaten to undo you, that is the time for your soul to practice speaking to your mind the truths about God and the incredible hope we have in Him.