This past Monday, on July 15th, adherents of Judaism marked Tisha B’Av, which is the day to remember the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem in c. 586 B.C. and 70 A.D., respectively. One tradition on this day is to read and meditate on the book of Lamentations. This caught my attention, and I decided to read through the whole book aloud (it’s not that impressive – it’s only a few chapters!), which was a moving experience.
One thing that I found refreshing is the realism of Lamentations. The Bible never asks us to buy into a religion that papers over the problems of this world. Instead, it calls us to respond to them at a deeply emotional level, and in the case of Lamentations, the emotional response is grief. The writer (most likely Jeremiah) grieves over unspeakable atrocities in the world over which he has no control, and he grieves over the sins of his own people. But, at the same time, this realism is mixed with an irrepressible sense of hope. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for justice. Hope for a brighter day. And all of this hope is rooted in the character of a God who is merciful, just and good.
Realism, mixed with hope. This is the message of all of Scripture. This is the message of the Gospel, that there are very real problems in the world and in our hearts, but that there is a good God who understands those problems and who promises to make all things new.
I want to invite you to continue to embrace a lifestyle of realism and hope:
There are cases in which hope has at least begun to be realized. Every week at church we grieve over our sin through confession, but we embrace the hope that every one of our sins was taken away at the cross. And, while Christians should certainly grieve the destruction of the two temples, we believe that God’s dwelling place on earth has now reached a fuller realization in the coming of Christ and through the filling of the Church with God’s own Spirit.
But there are other cases in which hope has yet to be realized. Young men like Trayvon Martin are still gunned down because of fear and misunderstanding. Dozens of helpless kids are poisoned in Dharmasati Gandawa, India because of negligence. Maybe there’s dysfunctionality and brokenness in your home that drags on and on. Maybe you’re gripped by a particular sin and you just can’t seem to gain victory over it.
Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about the gravity of sin and suffering. Don’t be afraid to grieve. But in the midst of your grief, try stepping into that irrepressible hope that Lamentations offers us, and pray this prayer:
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 who seeks him.