This past week in ministry has demonstrated how fragile life can be. A good friend faces monumental changes in ministry due to physical problems. The physical devastation is matched by the hidden, yet just as serious emotional and mental struggles. Platitudes fail to provide an adequate response for us as Christians. At times like this, we are drawn back to the Scriptures, not with the latest technique or fad informing our search, but a broken body, a broken heart, a broken spirit. We have questions that we may not think appropriate to even raise… no, not the usual “why?” but “God, where are you??!!!” and stronger ones.
Last Sunday’s OT reading was Lamentations 3:22-33. How much more fitting can this be?! In the midst of Jeremiah’s lament, he comes to the center of the chapter and the book with some great words:
3:20 Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
3:21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
3:22 The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
3:23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (NAS95)
To grasp how much this represents a statement of faith, we have to go to the beginning of the chapter and realize that Jeremiah’s ultimate “enemy” is God himself!
3:2 He has driven me and made me walk
In darkness and not in light.
3:3 Surely against me He has turned His hand
Repeatedly all the day.
3:8 Even when I cry out and call for help,
He shuts out my prayer.
Thus, Jeremiah’s struggles with the king, the false prophets, the soldiers who were ordered to imprison him several times, pale in comparison to his struggle with God. Even his prayers seem blocked from God (3:8). No wonder his soul is bowed down within him (3:20)!
God hears Jeremiah’s pleas. His Son, Jesus who faced this same experience. He is abandoned by his friends, ridiculed and beaten by his enemies, and hung on a cross. There he cries out: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” In that very act, God is not far away At all. When this truly righteous person is abandoned, there God is solving the dilemma of all people who feel abandoned.
Sometimes our enemies might be people, other times ourselves, and sometimes the effects of sin in this world in the form of diseases. When we experience such, we are not into comparing with others. We cringe when someone states, “At least it isn’t _____.” (fill in the blank as you see fit). At this point the one enduring the anguish does not care. He or she needs to know that God cares, even if for a time it seems that God is silent, hidden, and that he has forgotten the person.
My next posts will be reviews of two books dealing with this very topic, one from a pastoral perspective and one from a person who suffered personally. Two years ago I wrote a book review of Pastoral Care under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering by Pastor Richard C. Eyer. This past Friday I received a book from Tyndale for reviewing, Hearing Jesus Speak into Your Sorrow by Nancy Guthrie.
When we strip away the non-essential, we gain a perspective about God, about life, about ourselves that doesn’t match the world, but begins to move us closer to God’s perspective. It is not an easy journey, it is filled with pitfalls, and it will leave us struggling with failure, sadness, anger. But Jesus knows exactly that path and he walked it for us and now with us.