Faithful / God's Plan / Lamentations / Old Testament

The Goodness of God in the Pain of Man (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3

            There appears to be a double-minded complexity found in the third chapter of Lamentations. The authors jumps back and forth from despair to hope, similar to what is seen in the Psalms. Also, the number of verses is extended from 22 verses to 66; yet the actual content size of the chapter remains nearly equal to the first and second.

The first stream of thought focuses on the bitter reality of their situation. They have been driven away (v.2), left in darkness (2, 6), and faced with unrelenting suffering (3-7). The author continues with a host of unfavorable circumstances: no freedom (7), God does not hear their prayers (8), no guidance/crooked paths (9), specifically targeted (11-12), shame (14), no peace (17) and losing hope (18). These are similar to the sufferings stated prior, but they also have the quality of being concentrated on the internal. These trials are ones of the soul, mind and spirit. Their physical affliction was the fuel for a mental break.

However, this attack of the mind can be staved off. Verses 19-21 record a shift in thinking. “I remember my affliction…and my soul is downcast within me. (19)” As the author, and the people he represents, dwells on the horridness of the situation there is no alternative but to feel defeat and anguish. He is not satisfied to remain there, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. (21)” What you choose to think on shapes your attitude and affections. Ps 39:3 “Whilst I mused, the fire burned.” If we are to have any hope, the search for it must begin in our own minds with our own thoughts. Further, though the author was in the midst of the action of God, for hope’s sake he called to mind the attributes of God and these comforted him. The situation is temporary, the Savior eternal; our sight fails, it is short and weak – therefore our knowledge of God, what we have seen with our minds eye and heart, must carry us in times of situational darkness. What we choose to think on determines our attitude and actions; what we choose to think about God will either increase or decrease our affections for him – that is how to test whether such thoughts are worthy of our renewed mind.

Verses 22-33 narrate one of the most beautiful Old Testament passages of God’s goodness. His love is great and his compassions never fail (22, 32), he is faithful (23), and he is good to those who wait on him (25-27, 29, 31). What adds to the beauty of these few verses is their placement. They are found in the midst of terrible pain, the contrast is meant to be astounding and humbling. How can such praise arise out of such suffering? The answer arises from the previous section on thought. “It is good to wait quietly” (26), “sit alone in silence” (28), endure what you are given (29-30); all these reflect the thought of Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Dwell on the attributes of God and trust that every action, enacted or allowed, is ultimately governed by a good, all-powerful God. It is much easier to endure the what, when you trust the Who.

In support of my premise that the writer’s hope is to cast light upon the attributes of God are the two tercets following verse 33[1] (34-36 and 37-39). The first section asks the following: “To crush…all prisoners…to deny a man his rights…to deprive a man of justice – would not the Lord see such things?” Such actions are an abomination and it is expected that God would see such things because he is judge of the earth, “for all the nations belong to you” (Ps 82:8). The first attribute mentioned is omnipresence. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Ps 139:7). Although they suffer and are forced to exit their homeland, God remains with them and in fact there is no place they can go where he is not.

The second section asks a different question: “Who can speak and have it happen…Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” In a time when the power of God was questioned, the author labors to show his omnipotence. “For with God nothing is ever impossible” (Luke 1:37). God’s power brings both the good and the bad, judgment and mercy, health and sickness, life and death. Such power brings respect, even fear. Ultimately it is meant to instill fortitude and confidence because his strength is tied to his goodness.

The next series of verses (40-54) offer a stream of thoughts reflective upon what was covered up until this point in the chapter. This piece also utilizes the feebleness of mind; following and, as we will see, preceding an elaborate call to hope the author again falls into despair. There are four distinct thought processes: a call to confession (40-42), an angry reminder of God’s wrath (43-45), hopelessness over the triumph of their enemies (46-48), and finally tearful sorrow (49-54). It is an emotional diversion from the intellectual and hopeful argument laid out in verses 22-39.

The chapter ends on a high note as the final verses, 55-66, record the actions of God on their behalf. The Lord has: heard my plea (56), came near (57), took up my case (58), redeemed my life (58), seen the wrong done to me (59-60), and heard their insults (61-63). It is this renewed confidence in the action of God which motivates the request for vengeance found in 64-66, “Pay them back what they deserve.”

The complexity found in chapter three echoes the struggle between mind and emotion. It asks, how can we trust a God who allows suffering, and answers that we must labor to know that God more fully, both in attribute and action. Our response in any circumstance indicates the depth of our knowledge of God.

[1] Verse 33 is essential to understanding the justice of God in relation to his delight in mercy. However, to justifiably show its importance would prove too great a distraction from the short aim of this study, which is to provide a foundational understanding of the good found in the pain of man when that pain is authored by a good God.


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