We are in week 4 of our journey through the book of Lamentations, seeking to find the grace of God through the process of lament. Pain and grief are a part of living in world broken by sin, so it is imperative that we develop a biblically based process for dealing with them. We’ve been using the fourfold process for dealing with sorrow as outlined in Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop, which outlines the structure of lament. This process is 1) an address to God, 2) a complaint, 3) a request, and 4) an expression of trust (turn, complain, ask, and trust). In this process of lament, there is a crossroads each one of us must face. We must either choose to remain in the place of complaint, or we must choose to move forward towards grace. Lamentations 3 and 4 show Jeremiah at this crossroads. In Chapter 3, we see him find hope in the truth of who God is. Once Jeremiah is rooted in this new-found hope, he starts to move to Step 3 and bring his requests to God. Thus, we see Jeremiah make requests such as “uphold my cause” and “pay them back what they deserve.” Yet, Jeremiah’s tone changes dramatically once we reach Chapter 4. Gone is the imprecatory tone found in the requests at the end of Chapter 3. It is as if Jeremiah realizes he has missed an important step at the crossroads. In Chapter 4 we see Jeremiah pause and take a step back.
When I was a young child, I used to love visiting my Aunt Sue at Christmas. It was not because she gave great gifts—Aunt Sue was in her late eighties, and her gifts were usually pretty terrible. But one thing she always gave us that I loved was the Whitman’s Chocolate Sampler. My parents didn’t think much of it, so I usually had it to myself. I remember very distinctly sitting in front of the TV and squishing the candies to see what was inside. If it was one of my favorites, then I would quickly consume it. If it was not, it was returned to the box, much to my mother’s consternation. Lamentations 4 shows us how the crises in our lives serve to do much the same thing. It is in those difficult moments of pressing that what’s inside is revealed.
For Jeremiah and the citizens of Jerusalem, the pressing of their devastation reveals their misplaced trust. They have looked to a number of different things for their security, and now all those things have been stripped away, which has compounded their grief. Interestingly, many of the things in which they’ve placed their trust are the same things to which we look: money, people, culture, national identity, and even a misguided view of God and His promises. Jeremiah realizes that before he and the citizens of Jerusalem can truly move into the healing stages of lament, they must first confront the ugliness that has been brought to the surface by their circumstances. While such self-reflection seems unpleasant in the midst of pain, it is through this confrontation that such pain is redeemed. While the world tells us that our pain is merely the result of happenstance or bad luck, the Bible tells us such is not the case. God doesn’t cause our pain (Jas. 1), but He does desire to redeem it (Rom. 8:28). God desires to bring purpose to the pain caused by our broken world by using it to draw us into a deeper love relationship with Him. And it is in that deeper relationship with a loving God that the healing can begin.
- Review the list of different things in which the Jewish people placed their trust. Do you identify with any of those areas of misplaced trust? Are their any other things in which you might have placed your trust, other than God?
- How is the degree of our grief related to the importance to us of what has been lost?
- How does God redeem our pain?
- Why was it so important for Jeremiah to take a step back? How does Jeremiah’s tone in Chapter 3 compare to his tone in Chapters 4 and 5? What does this tell us about the importance of self-evaluation in the midst of difficulty?