Prone to self-pity, I told my wife the other day that I must like despair like some like ice cream since I indulge so often. But though our thoughts may be trained to flow down well-worn channels, we are never meant to stay there.
My Bible reading plan for the other morning had me reading the book of Lamentations. This is by no means the first place I’d go to or recommend going to when one is feeling the weight of life, and I had little hope of the morning’s reading bringing much comfort.
But the prophet Jeremiah, the book’s reluctant author, has been nicknamed ‘the weeping prophet’ not because he curled up in a useless puddle in the face of the affairs of life, but because he gave expression to the frustrations that life brought to him. He took those frustrations to the One whom he believed to be the source of life.
He wrote as the city of Jerusalem fell apart around him under a Babylonian siege. That siege, Jeremiah had repeatedly pointed out, was the judgment of God upon the squishy, superficial spirituality of Israel. God had had enough and was bringing his promised judgment.
As I sat in “Dr. Jeremiah’s” couch, he showed me that affliction and sin all mixed up and confounded can drag one from freedom to bondage.
“She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” (1:1)
He showed me as well that it is okay to trace this to its source.
“…because the LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” (1:5)
The cause may be my sin, but the source of the affliction is and always will be God. It does not help to try to sidestep God’s sovereignty when we are suffering. In fact, it is appropriate to give full vent to how this makes us feel.
“The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob….” (2:2)
It seems wrong to accuse God of acting “without mercy”, but when that is the way it feels, that is what we need to say. But in Jeremiah I see as well one who, giving vent to bitter honesty, cannot remain at the place of bitter honesty. That is the case with any who truly know God. Yes speaking with such honesty is good, but we must at some point emerge elsewhere.
“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22, 23)
I want to live in that verse, but I often don’t. I think that one of the reasons public worship is so important is that being with God’s people under the ministry of God’s word is a place where, if even for a brief moment, God can move us from the despair of 2:2 to the affirmation of 3:22, 23.
But we want to be there always, not just for a brief moment, we protest from Dr. Jeremiah’s couch. He knows that. But he also knows that in God’s wisdom there is ordained a time for everything under heaven, and for some times we must wait.
“The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (3:25, 26)
Waiting is something foreign to me and to many others. Waiting is not what spoiled and soft children are prone to practice. But waiting, nevertheless, is what God demands.
It does not take one long to realize that the afflictions facing the Israelites and observed and experienced by Jeremiah were far worse than those faced by the readers of this blog (both of us). Nevertheless, ours FEEL as real and as painful and the hard place for all of us is to wait quietly. Quiet waiting is a far better place than quiet (or noisy) desperation.
And so Dr. Jeremiah dismisses us from his office with a prayer purged of complaint and focused as it ought to be.
“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old….” (5:21)
The ellipses can be used to hide things to make the text say what I want it to say. Many writers hide behind abbreviated texts. Here note that I have dropped an important qualifier from the text.
“…unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.’
What Jeremiah could only sense is what we know to be fact – that we may trust in one who was utterly rejected for us, so that we might know that God would never remain exceedingly angry with us.
With that hope we leave our appointment with this soul doctor. And the good thing is that his consultation was free.