Prayer through the Pain

Lamentations 3:43-66

 

In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah has recalled the Lord's lovingkindnessess and unfailing compassions to find hope, even among the ruins of Jerusalem (cf. 3:21-23). The middle section of this chapter, as we have seen, is the focal point of the book, setting in verse incredible truths about God's sovereignty and mercy.

In the background, however, is always the horrible reality of sin. The poet (speaking for the nation as a whole) does not lay any blame at God's feet for what He allowed to happen to the people. He writes, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins? We have transgressed and rebelled, You have not pardoned" (3:38-39, 42). God has not pardoned them, but allowed the promised curse for their unfaithfulness to fall on them, and so Jeremiah turns again to recount God's chastisement poured out on His people.

He declares, "You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have slain and have not spared. You have covered Yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us mere offscouring and refuse in the midst of the peoples. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us. Panic and pitfall have befallen us, devastation and destruction; my eyes run down with streams of water because of the destruction of the daughter of my people. My eyes pour down unceasingly, without stopping, until the Lord looks down and sees from heaven. My eyes bring pain to my soul because of all the daughters of my city" (3:43-51).

He understood that God's judgment against Israel was total and just, and we are meant to weep for our sins and their consequences in the course of being conformed to His likeness. These descriptions drip with pain and the shame of being cast down before their nations surrounding them. His tears flow, he says, from looking at the fate of Jerusalem, and will continue until God answers his prayer for restoration.

He describes his situation as being "hunted" by his enemies like a bird, and "silenced" in a pit with a stone placed over it-Israel has been stripped of her humanity, in a sense, captured and carried off like a wild animal snared by a hunter (3:52-53). At the depth of this situation, when escape seemed impossible, he cried out to God: "Waters flowed over my head; I said, I am cut off!' I called on Your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice, Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help'" (3:54-56).

His confidence in this prayer is evident, and God does not ignore his cries: "You drew near when I called on You; You said, Do not fear!'" (3:57). What a precious answer to prayer this must have been, consolation and comfort from the Most High. At the same time, The Lord's reply seems frustrating to us. We crave His power, His deliverance, His healing, but He offers us instead the consolation of His presence. We want God to act, to intervene on our terms, with shock and awe. He responds instead, as He responded to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). When we fail to be comforted fully by that promise, it is because we (unlike Jeremiah) are ignorant of the fact that God is at work as much in our trials as in our deliverance. We deny that God may be using hardship to purge our sins and present us as purified living sacrifices for His glory.

Jeremiah, though, hears God's reply as the blessing it is and obeys. He steps back from despair, and continues his prayer, crying out to God to release Israel from shame. Even in the midst of the darkness, he leans fully on the Lord, knowing his help will come from no other quarter.

In crying out to God, it is as though he says, "Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven" (Matt. 6:9-10). He wants to see God glorified by protecting His people from ridicule before their pagan neighbors, and looks forward to the day when the full measure of His justice will be poured out on all the earth for all to see: "O Lord, You have pleaded my soul's cause; You have redeemed my life. O Lord, You have seen my oppression; judge my case. You have seen all their vengeance, all their schemes against me. You have heard their reproach, O Lord, all their schemes against me. The lips of my assailants and their whispering are against me all day long. Look on their sitting and their rising; I am their mocking song. You will recompense them, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. You will give them hardness of heart, Your curse will be on them. You will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord!" (3:58-66).

The household of God had been chastised severely for their sins, and Jeremiah asks the Lord to redeem His repentant people and complete the work of His war against sin. His confidence in the Lord's ultimate justice looks "through a glass, darkly" to see Christ, the redeemer who pays our ransom and the Savior who brings all those who confess their sin back to God. When trials and hardship come into our lives, we ought to take pains to repent and pray rather than complain or despair. For if we are His children, whatever comes serves to conform us ever more to His likeness. The discipline of a Father for His children is a severe mercy that spares us from His holy wrath against those who refuse to know Him.

Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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