The last chapter offers a final retelling of the suffering they are under: (v.1) disgrace), (2) poverty, (3) loneliness, (4) no supplies, (5, 12) no rest, (6, 8) enslaved, (10) hunger, (11) mistreatment of women, (13) toil/work, (14) no community, (15) no joy, (17-18) no hope. Every one of these items had been mentioned prior, except those found in verse 14-15, “the young men have stopped their music. Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning.” All of their complaints have been very dark, such as murder, famine and exhaustion. At first reading this seems to be a much lighter complaint, we do not have fun anymore. I believe it aims at something much deeper – the uprooting of their idol of pleasure. It was the search for pleasure which started them on the path to forgetting God. God desired to rescue them and thus needed to awaken them from their own habitual idolatry. As Piper says, “The quickest way to the heart is through a wound,” and so the Lord saw fit to wound them. Every dark circumstance, hunger, exhaustion, shame, loneliness, these were all in service of God’s redemptive wrath – to wound them that their hearts may return to him. It appears to have worked for in the following verse (15), the people submit, “Woe to us, for we have sinned.” They no longer blame it solely on the sins of their fathers (7), instead they take responsibility now that their eyes are open.
The final four verses offer a painful last request for help. Verse 19 is an admission of God’s eternal sovereignty, “O Lord, you reign forever.” Although they know about him, they still remain cold towards him: (20) “Why do you always forget us?” Verse 20 complains about the inaction of God, while 21 offers one final request for his intervention. The chapter and the book conclude with what is probably the most hopeless statement in all of Lamentations, “[renew us]…unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.” They ask, have we exhausted your forgiveness God? Have we finally sinned so great, moved so far, that you have given up on us? It is a terrifying thought, but what adds to its demoralizing effect is that there is no response. The book merely ends on this bitter note.
The overarching theme of Lamentations is forgetting God and its consequences. This motif affects in two directions – as the people forget God, God appears to forget his people. And vice versa, as the people return to God and remember him, so God returns and remembers his people. I strongly believe James 4:8-9 looks to Lamentations for its foundation: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash you hands, you sinner, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” These things occur that we may seek humility and in turn “the Lord…will lift you up.” (4:10)