How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!Lamentations 1:1
So begins one of the most moving books in the Old Testament, the book of Lamentations, a book that is filled with grief-stricken poems and prayers as Jerusalem falls to Babylon. This is a moving book that touches us deeply when we, too, find ourselves in seasons of lament. And aren’t we in such a season now?
How lonely sits the city, I read, and picture cities around the world that are almost always crowded, bustling, lively places, but now are quiet, empty, even lonely places. And it’s not just our cities that are lonely, but our own communities, our schools, many of our workplaces, and even our churches. How lonely are these places that once were full of people!
Truthfully, our season of loneliness, this time of lament, pales in comparison to what was happening in Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar’s siege led to almost unimaginable suffering. It’s good to remember that ours is not the only generation to face a difficult trial.
But, still, we are facing a time of trial, and one way to live through such a time, and find meaning it, is to lament, to express our sorrow over what we are losing. Here is one more beautiful expression of lament, from the third chapter of this book:
My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.” The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.Lamentations 3:17-20
If this book of Lamentations had only these poems of lament, it would be beautiful, but not necessarily hopeful. What gives this book its power, to me, is that the words of lament are followed by incredible words of hope. In Lamentations 3, right after the lament I just quoted, there is a stunning turn in this book, a turn from lament to this powerful testament of faith:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.Lamentations 3:21-33
Isn’t that incredible to read? As we imagine the lonely, besieged city in which the author lives, with so little around him to give him any reason to hope, this passage serves to remind us that there is always reason to hope, because the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s mercies are new every morning, and God’s faithfulness is as great now as it was then, and as it ever has been. No matter the season in which we find ourselves, no matter our sorrow, when we place our trust in God, we will always have reason to hope.
When we find ourselves in a season of lament, because of this pandemic or for any other reason, Lamentations can help give words to our grief like no other, in poetry as beautiful as any ever written. And that is important. But that is not what gives this book its power, to me. It is that little word that begins the twenty-first verse in the third chapter: “But.” That is the word that bubbles up from the very bottom of a faithful person’s grief, the word that says, sometimes in a shaking, quivering voice, I believe. And because I believe, I have hope.
There are countless moments like this in scripture, when a faithful person who is beaten down my life laments, but then turns back to their faith. And there are people I know who have done the same, and I am certain that you can think of people, too. And who among us has not been inspired by someone who is facing tremendous challenges, but whose faith endures?
As people of faith, we still lament, but even our laments are hope-filled. Our laments end with a semicolon, you might say, not a period, because we trust in God’s faithfulness to us, and so we can’t help but conclude our laments with hope. And when we do that, when we follow our laments with expressions of hope, we are following in the footsteps of people of faith throughout the generations, who have faced unimaginable trials, but have refused to give up hope, because they refuse to abandon their faith.
And now, it is our turn. Our opportunity to lament in this season of loss, but to lament with hope. It is our turn to hold on to our faith and to our trust in our God, whose mercies are new every morning, whose faithfulness is great, and who gives us every reason to believe in a future with hope. Let our laments be hope-filled, now and always.