Lamentations and Hope

Not many verses in the book of Lamentations are famous; these are: Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope...

Lamentations and Hope

Originally published in Issue #8 on May 21, 2021

Not many verses in the book of Lamentations are famous; these are:

Yet I call this to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
I say, “The LORD is my portion,
therefore I will put my hope in him.”

– Lamentations 3:21-24 (CSB)

These verses sit at the very center of the book of Lamentations. The first lament poem (chapter 1) of the book is a study of the misery of Jerusalem after the city fell, the temple was destroyed, and most Israelites were exiled to Babylon. The remaining people were starving to death with seemingly no way to contact YHWH or atone for their sin (remember that the temple was their primary channel of communion and atonement with God).

All her people groan
while they search for bread.
They have traded their precious belongings for food
in order to stay alive.
LORD, look and see
how I have become despised.

– Lamentations 1:11 (CSB)

The second lament focuses on YHWH as the cause of the people’s misery.

The Lord is like an enemy;
he has swallowed up Israel.
He swallowed up all its palaces
and destroyed its fortified cities.
He has multiplied mourning and lamentation
within Daughter Judah.

– Lamentations 2:5 (CSB)

Within each of these laments, there is an acknowledgment of the sin of Jerusalem and that YHWH had promised these punishments on Israel if she broke the covenant and turned her back on God (for example, Leviticus 26), but the overwhelming emotion derived from these poems is pain.

Lamentations 3 doesn’t turn the tables. The only notes of hope we can find in this book are in the center. Much of chapter 3 and the entirety of chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 are pain and despair for their situation.

How do we deal with an inspired work of scripture in which people cry out to God for rescue and he never responds? The start of this passage is crucial:

Yet I call this to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

– Lamentations 3:21a

The character in the third poem (often called the “valiant man”) does not need a change of circumstances for his attitude to change. He needed to remember how God has moved in the past and how God has promised He will always move. Even in the current situation and silence, the valiant man can bring to mind that God’s covenant love for His people is eternal, and his punishment is temporary, as He promised.

That doesn’t change the valiant man’s pain or the city’s cries for relief. And it doesn’t change that relief from their pain wouldn’t arrive for 70 years. But if Lamentations teaches us anything, it’s that God can handle our cries of pain, and it hints at the hope to come in Jesus. Through Jesus, all will be made right and new. That is the ultimate hope of the world (Romans 8:18-23). God’s covenant promise for us is a new heaven and earth. In the here and now, we must walk by faith in the hope of our future home and not by sight of the still-present realities of suffering and mortal decay (2 Corinthians 5:4-9).

So, whatever you may be going through now, give God your pain, call to mind God’s loving faithfulness, and find your hope in Christ's atoning work which bought us so great a future.