Hope In The Midst Of Hurt

Lamentations 3:22-23 - Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.

The verses above are two of the best loved verses in the whole Bible. They succinctly capture our gratitude for the Lord's consistent goodness and kindness--even when we don't deserve it! How often the truth of these verses is the response of our hearts as we experience God's continual protection and daily provision for our needs. Even when things have not been going well we are able to respond with, "Great is Thy faithfulness" when we've recovered from our troubles. When we are able to look back and catch a glimpse of how God "worked all things together for good" (Romans 8:28), including our setbacks and disappointments, we are able to praise the Lord for His constant faithfulness to us. But what about when we are in the midst of sorrow or tragedy--when we are actually feeling the hurt and the pain, and when we can't see how everything is "working together for good"? What is the response of our souls then? Can we still say that the Lord's great love and compassions never fail? Can we still rejoice in the great faithfulness of the Lord every morning?

Yes! We can hope in the midst of hurt! We not only can say "Great is Thy faithfulness" after the period of suffering or struggle is over, but we can experience God's new-every-morning compassions and faithfulness in the midst of our hurt. The book of Lamentations clearly teaches us that such a hope is possible for believers. The fact that these promises of God's compassion and faithfulness are sandwiched between verses of hope (v21&24), and set in a surrounding context of sorrow and tragedy, serves to emphasize that hope is possible in the midst of hurt. And the hope of verses 21 and 24 is not just wishful thinking, but rather the confident knowledge that God knows all about our situation and will do something about it because He cares for us and is committed to our well-being. Thus the main point of these verses, in context, is that confidence in God's faithfulness and experience of God's loyal love can be realized in the very midst of affliction and sorrow-not just when life is "smooth sailing."

The book of Lamentations, as the name implies, is a lament or funeral dirge for the conquered city of Jerusalem. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah soon after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586BC. At that time the magnificent temple of the Lord that was built by King Solomon was burned to the ground, and most of the people of Judah were either killed or taken as captives to Babylon. Conditions in Jerusalem, both before and after the overthrow, were horrendous. During the long siege of the city, in which the Babylonian armies surrounded Jerusalem and cut the city completely off for over a year, disease was rampant and death was commonplace. (See 2 Kings 25:1-10 and Ezekiel 5:12.) The famine that resulted from the siege was so severe that some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem resorted to cannibalism--even of their own children. (See Lamentations 3:20 & 4:10, and Ezekiel 5:10.)

After the invasion, Jeremiah was given permission by the Babylonian forces to remain on in Jerusalem with the few poor people who were left in the land (Jeremiah 40:1-7). No wonder he began his lament with the words, "How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!" Jeremiah continued his lament for the forsaken city in five melancholy poems which make up the five chapters of the book of Lamentations. The poems of chapters 1 through 4 are acrostics -that is, each succeeding verse or set of verses in these chapters begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In each of these alphabetic laments, Jeremiah proceeded from "A to Z," weeping for the desolate city of Jerusalem.

As we read through this book of laments, all of us can identify to one degree or another with some of the hurts that are mentioned. The following list of hurts is a compilation of just some of the sad and sorrowful events which took place when Jerusalem was besieged and burned. Perhaps one of these painful events or tragic hurts has been your experience--or is your experience even now.

The hurt of being treated as an outcast (4:15).

The hurt of becoming an orphan (5:3).

The hurt of being forced to do menial labor (5:13).

The hurt of physical torture (5:12).

The hurt of being raped (5:11).

The hurt of losing a husband or wife (1:1, 5:3).

The hurt of falling from your respected position (1:1, 1:9, 3:47, 4:3, 4:7-8, 5:8).

The hurt of having no one to comfort you (1:2, 1:9, 1:16-17, 1:21).

The hurt of seeing your friends turn against you (1:2, 1:17, 1:19).

The hurt of getting no rest for your body or soul (1:3, 1:22, 2:18, 3:19, 5:5, 5:17).

The hurt of realizing that happy fellowship times are over (1:4, 2:6, 5:14-15).

The hurt of seeing your children taken from you as you stand by helplessly (1:5).

The hurt of losing your material possessions (1:7, 4:1, 4:5, 5:2).

The hurt of being mocked and despised (1:7-8, 2:15-16, 3:14).

The hurt of experiencing the lack of basic needs (1:11, 1:19, 4:9, 5:4, 5:9-10).

The hurt of having no one who understands what you're going through (1:12).

The hurt of seeing your children in great need (1:16, 4:4).

The hurt of experiencing great emotional stress (1:20).

The hurt of having rivals gloat over you (1:21, 2:16-17, 3:46).

The hurt of grieving because of tragic loss (2:10, 3:51).

The hurt of being unable to prevent the death of your child (2:11-12, 2:19, 2:22).

The hurt of knowing that you sacrificed your children for your own welfare (3:20, 4:10).

The hurt of realizing too late that you followed false teaching (2:14).

The hurt of realizing that you have been the cause of desecration (mocking of God) (1:10, 2:7).

The hurt of seeing the Lord withdraw His blessing from you (2:9, 3:17-18, 5:20-22).

The hurt of knowing you are under divine discipline (1:13-15, 2:1-5, 2:21-22, 3:1-18, 3:43, 4:6, 4:11, 4:16, 5:7, 5:17).

After reading through such an accumulation of hurts, it is significant that our verses of hope come in the middle of chapter 3. It was in the middle poem of lament that Jeremiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote of His confidence in the Lord's faithfulness. Jeremiah, of course, was speaking on behalf of the small group of people in Judah who were faithful to God--those who had acknowledged their nation's wrongs and were looking to the Lord for help. Although these godly people were not personally guilty of the sins for which God was judging the nation, they identified with the guilty as they confessed their nation's sin. (See Lamentations 1:18, 1:20, 3:42 and 5:16.) Their humble attitude is a great biblical model for us to follow as we pray for our own sinful nation.

It is important to recognize that it was not the rebellious and idolatrous population of Judah who said, "Great is Thy faithfulness!" No, it was the handful of people who had remained faithful to the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel had dramatically foretold that only a relatively small number of the people would be left when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem. (See Ezekiel 5:3 and note the context of chapter 5 of Ezekiel.) These few persons were horrified and saddened by the sin in Judah, and in Ezekiel's vision of the destruction of Jerusalem they received God's "mark of protection." (See Ezekiel 9 and particularly note verse 4.) Throughout the book we see that these faithful people were very aware that Babylon was a rod of discipline in God's hands. (See Lamentations 1:5, 1:12-15, 2:17, 4:13, and 5:7, for example.) And even though they had remained faithful to the Lord, this godly group of people suffered along with the rest of the people who were experiencing God's judgment for their sins. It was in the midst of these sufferings that this faithful remnant could say God's compassions were new every morning and His faithfulness was great!

How could they say this? Where was the evidence of God's faithfulness in such a situation? What new compassions were they experiencing every morning? Jeremiah and the few godly Jews were able to see that God was faithful to what He had declared in His Word. God had said over and over again that He would have to discipline the nation for her sin. God was faithful to that promise. God had also declared through His prophet Jeremiah that He would not destroy Judah completely--even though they deserved to be wiped out and erased as a nation. (See Jeremiah 4:27, 5:10 and 5:18.) And God was faithful to that promise.

Furthermore, God had revealed through the prophet Jeremiah that the nation would return from its captivity in Babylon after 70 years. (See Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10.) Every day that went by in which the faithful remnant was still preserved was a day closer to the fulfillment of that prophecy. In fact, even the sunrise of every new day was a token of God's continuing compassions! They knew that God had declared that as long as the sun came up each day, the nation would live on. (See Jeremiah 31:35-36.) They also knew that God's promised Messiah, the Savior for all mankind, would come some day through their nation. (See Jeremiah 23:5-6.) It was because of their confidence in these promises that they could hope in the midst of all their hurts. They knew God had not forsaken them because they knew He would be faithful to His Word! How encouraging all of this can be for us! Sometimes we suffer because of our own sins and our own mistakes. On the other hand, sometimes we hurt because of what other people have done. We hurt because of the actions or mistakes of our parents or our children, our bosses or our employees, our teachers or our students, and on and on. Sometimes we suffer and it seems that no one's to blame--it "just happened." In any of these cases, our study of Lamentations should be encouraging, because all the hurts mentioned there were part of the fallout of divine discipline. If God gave hope in that context, we can be sure He gives hope in the midst of our hurts today, no matter what has caused them. If we look to the Lord and His Word, we will find hope.

We do have the promise, already quoted, that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28.) Certainly this includes all of our hurts. We also have the promise that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). This verse takes into account far more than just the local events surrounding our individual lives, and it means that no event in the universe takes place apart from God's controlling hand. Even the evil sources that God allows to exist at the present time are not outside the limits of God's control.

Nothing happens by chance! It is all part of God's wonderful plans for us! (Read Ephesians 1:11-12 again--and again.) Thus God knows and controls all the sources of our hurts--past and present, natural and supernatural, good and evil. (Read Romans 8:38-39 in this connection also.) God doesn't just "pick up the pieces" and cobble together something good out of a tragedy that could have been avoided if He had been a little more in control of His universe! He is always in complete control--whether we recognize it or not, or whether we understand it or not. When we realize that we deserve nothing from God and yet know that He is controlling all the events in the universe on our behalf, we gain a new appreciation of how great God's love and faithfulness to us really is--even in the midst of our hurts. Such a realization is a direct application of Lamentations 3:22-23, in context, to our personal lives. As we live in the reality of these truths and thus grow in faith and trust, each day that we suffer we begin to recognize some of the ways God shows His compassion for us. We begin to appreciate His compassion in giving us family and friends as well as the beauty and solace of nature--the blessings we so often take for granted. We begin to notice and recognize His "small" compassions--unexpected help from a stranger, an encouraging note, a faithful pet curled up at our feet or in our lap, or a biography of a Christian who has gone through suffering. We begin to thank our heavenly Father for a heightened awareness and a greater appreciation of His loving kindness. We begin to realize that "all things" really does mean all things.

And even when we feel that our various needs for comfort and encouragement are not being met as we would like, in any and all disappointing and hurting situations we can take hope in the midst of our hurts because we know that God is faithful to His commitment to our welfare--today and forever.

Finally, we have all the biblical promises of an eternal future with our Lord in heaven. This life is only a fleeting moment compared to eternity. The hurts of today will soon be gone forever. For the Christian, there is surely hope in the midst of hurt!
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