“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. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Lamentations 3:22-26
Growing up in the church I used to sing a praise chorus written to this text from the book of Lamentations. The song was positive and uplifting yet completely divorced from the context of its source.
Lamentations is one of the low points in the Bible. Written after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, it shows the author’s struggles with God’s judgement on the nation. Throughout the book, the author expresses emotions of sadness, shock, despair, and hope.
If you read Lamentations, you can see why the author is lamenting:
· Jerusalem is empty (Lam 1:1)
· The Israelites had no one to help them (Lam 1:7)
· There is no bread or wine (Lam 2:12)
· Mothers are eating their children (Lam 2:20; 4:10)
· Corpses lie in the street (Lam 2:21)
Yet, what is most shocking of all is that this situation occurred because the Israelites did not live into the covenant cut by their ancestors with God. In response God did not protect them, and He delivered them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. The entire book is a prayer of lamentation to God. The author is asking God to remember His people and forgive their sins. He is yearning for restoration, restoration as a nation but also to a proper relationship with God.
Those of us living in the affluent West do not experience the kinds of horror described in Lamentations, yet if we open our eyes we will see that many are experiencing this kind of devastation in their homelands today.
Yet, we in the affluent west are currently dealing with the struggles of COVID-19. We are facing our own sorts of trials and tribulations. Doctors and nurses serve in overcrowded hospitals without enough supplies. Retirement communities are on lock-down, hoping the virus does not spread through the facility and kill its residents. Store shelves are empty because of hoarding.
The response to this virus is also wreaking other kinds of hardships on many. People who live paycheck to paycheck at non-essential jobs are not receiving a paycheck. Retirement accounts are losing so much value that people may not retire as planned. Parents are juggling work from home while trying to home-school their children. Individuals are struggling with depression because they lack basic human interactions. Families are separated due to travel restrictions or illness.
We are living in fear of a virus. Every day the new projections seem more dire and ominous. The new guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus are more restrictive. We live uncertain of when life can begin to return to a new normal.
Yet, we are not experiencing what the author of Lamentations is describing. We are not experiencing war destroying our homeland, even if people outside the West are. Amid his despair, the author writes an exceptionally hopeful refrain: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Those of us living with the struggles of the pandemic have hope. We can wake up every day having confidence that God loves us, a God whose mercies are new every morning. We can wait in hope for His salvation.
As we are living in a post-Easter world, we know the hope of salvation we are waiting for. We know that these struggles are temporary. Jesus Christ has restored our relationship with God and we look forward to the day when He will return and “wipe away every tear,” a day when “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things, have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Even though I don’t hear that praise song in church anymore, when I remember it I sing it in my head with this understanding of the context, and the text now takes on a much deeper meaning.