What a description of the utter despair of the human spirit in the grip of deep distress and sorrow! And yet, in each of these chapters an insight is revealed, a lesson that God teaches through sorrow that otherwise would never have been learned. That is what we should look for in this book.
The book is designed to teach us through what might be called the therapy of trouble, what sorrow teaches us. All through scripture we are told that pain and suffering are God’s instruments by which he teaches us. Through suffering comes strength of character. Do not be surprised that this is true. We read in Hebrews of the Lord Jesus, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) There were things the Lord Jesus had to learn and could learn only by living as a man through times of suffering and sorrow. If he was not exempt, why should we expect to be?
This is why it is never right for a Christian to say, as so many of us do, when trouble strikes, “Why should this happen to me?” Well, why shouldn’t it happen to you? As Hebrews 12, verse 10, reminds us, it is a mark of God’s love. He sent it to discipline us, to teach us, and to train us.
Each chapter also reveals one particular aspect of sorrow as teaching one particular lesson of grace. In chapter 1 there is the sense of desolation and abandonment in spirit, when suddenly the prophet says in verse 18:
“The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word;” (Lamentations 1:18a RSV)
While he was looking out over Jerusalem and feeling this awful sense of desolation, he suddenly realized that this was a sign that God is right. So he says, “I have rebelled against his word.”
That is the problem, and the lesson. Most of us are in the habit of blaming God, either directly or indirectly, for whatever happens to us, and our attitude is usually, “Well, I don’t know why this should happen to me! After all, I have been doing my best. I have been trying hard, and still these kinds of things happen.” And our implication is that God is unjust, God is not right.
The apostle Paul says, “Let God be true though every man be false.” (Romans 3:4) It is impossible for God not to be right. It is impossible for man to be more just than God, because our very sense of justice is derived from him. It is impossible for man to be more compassionate than God, for our feelings of compassion come from him. You see, it is impossible for us ever to sit in judgment on God. God is right. When Jeremiah saw the utter desolation around him he learned this. As long as he had anything to prop himself up with, he could find fault with God, but when he was left utterly desolate he realized that the Lord was right.
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