There May Yet Be Hope
Prosperity, gone. Allies, gone. Security, honor, and strength—all gone. Everywhere there are “terror and pitfalls, ruin and destruction” (Lamentations 3:47).
Through a series of five poems, Lamentations gives an eyewitness account of the downfall of Jerusalem in the siege of the Babylonian army in 586 B.C. Prophesies of the city’s ruin because of their sin went unheeded year after year, as they continued to practice idol worship, political corruption, and social injustice. Despite God’s warnings, the city “did not consider her future. Her fall was astounding” (Lamentations 1:9).
If you’ve ever experienced the fallout that occurs due to unrepentant sin—either yours or that of someone you love—you have likewise been stunned at the destruction it brings. In times like these, sometimes the only intelligible prayers that can leave your lips are, “How, Lord?” and “Why, Lord?” And so it seems fitting that Lamentations’ original title in Hebrew was Ekah, meaning “How…?” after the first word of chapters 1, 2, and 4.
As I’ve personally dealt with a similar downfall in my own community, I’ve found that working through Lamentations has proven invaluable in my attempt to process and make sense of it all. In this short, brutal book, profound reason is given to fear the Lord, as well as profound reason to hope in him.
Fear the Lord, for his Wrath Against Sin is Certain and Great.
When believers talk about God’s response to sin, we’re often tempted to rush over the wrath and judgement part to quickly get to the reassuring grace and forgiveness part. Don’t. Lamentations certainly doesn’t. Over 4/5ths of this book dwells on the vivid, sickening details of the pain and destruction caused by the Lord’s wrath on the Israelites’ sin. Lamentations compels us to sit with this fact: sin brings devastation. To not face this fact is to be in danger of falling to it.
It’s crucial to understand, the word “wrath” isn’t just about God being angry. It’s about God’s justice coming in his divine and righteous judgement. As terrible as God’s wrath is, allowing sin to prevail would be worse, and would totally go against his holy nature. And the consequences of sin often affect all, including the blameless. The ripples go out wide. Lamentations tells of corrupt leaders and dishonest prophets paying the price for their sin, but also of starving children in the streets. Even God’s holy temple is not safe from desecration. The cost is steep.
We want to ask, "Why did they persist in sin when God’s warnings were so clear? Didn’t they know better?" These are dishonest questions. We all know why, and if we think we don’t, we’re lying to ourselves (1 John 1:8-10). We’ve all dealt with sin as it entices us to continue sinning, or at least to withhold confession and repentance. It tells us that we can handle it on our own, in secret. That the cost of confessing to another would be too great. That it’s wiser and more merciful, even, to keep our sin secret. The ways we justify hiding our sins are many and varied. All are lies leading to ruin.
For my part, even as I’ve watched the proverbial city walls crumble around me due to sustained sin, I’ve been stunned at my own persisting inclination to withhold confession and hide my sin. I’ve failed to fear sin adequately. I’ve failed to fear the Lord adequately. God have mercy. May the Lord teach us to recognize that he cannot be mocked, and we will reap what we sow, be that destruction or life (Galatians 6:7-8).
Hope in the Lord, for His Forgiveness of Sin is Certain and Greater Still.
Amid the pervasive, unrelenting suffering depicted in Lamentations, there’s a surprising climax right in the middle, in chapter 3. Multiple times, the writer declares reason to hope in the Lord who has crushed them (Lamentations 3:21-22, 3:25-26, 3:28-29).
This turning point pivots on the writer’s remembrance of God’s character, and our rightful posture in response to him. Where the poem once vacillated between disbelieving protest (Lamentations 1:12) and hopeless admission of guilt (Lamentations 1:18), now we see hopeful repentance (Lamentations 3:40-42). If God has proven himself truthful in his promised judgement of sin, then he will also prove faithful in his proclaimed mercy, forgiveness, and steadfast love for those who hope in him (Exodus 34:5-7, Lamentations 3:22-33).
In Isaiah, the Lord declares that sinners tremble at his aroused, burning anger, and they ask, “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” And the answer comes that he who is righteous and just, the “Mighty One,” is able to withstand the burning fury, bringing hope and forgiveness to those who look upon him (Isaiah 33:10-24).
That Mighty One has been revealed, and it’s Jesus Christ, who, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, pays for our sins, satisfies God’s wrath, and reconciles us to a holy God (Romans 5:9-11). This is why, like the poet of Lamentations, in repentance we can say, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,” (ESV note says “we are not cut off”) “for the Lord will not cast off forever” (Lamentations 3:22, 31).
Fear and Hope are Displayed in Action.
Fear and hope in the Lord aren’t simply displayed by our ability to understand biblical truths or even by our claims to believe them. They are shown when we wager that confessing our sins and submitting to God’s commands regarding them is a safer bet than withholding confession and hiding sin—no matter the cost. Let us all examine our hearts to see if our actions reflect the hope we profess.
Please hear me, Christian: drag your sins out into the light of day now, or the Lord will do it in time. The wrath of the Lord—even the temporary wrath extended over his own people—is a fearsome thing to experience. And the restorative mercy extended to those in repentance is never a thing to delay (James 5:16). “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (Lamentations 3:32).