The book of Lamentations in the Old Testament is a series of poems and elegies, written after the capture of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Written, assumably by Jeremiah, it is a series of heartbroken cries. Listen to his opening words:
"How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she that was great among the nations ...
She weeps bitterly in the night
tears on her cheeks." (Lamentations 1: 1,2)
Why is such a book written anyway? Who wants to read it? Such a sad book ... "Lamentations" from the word "lament" meaning to be sad.
Perhaps it is written because it is important sometimes to read sad stories. It is so easy to be careless and blithe in the presence of human misery. We need reminders of the fact that there is much in human life that is sorrowful and sad.
In the lovely Good Friday cantata, "The Seven Last Words," the composer sees the three crosses and those standing by watching, and pulls a passage from Lamentations 1:12 which says, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow."
And the downside of that is my own realization that in many ways, I am like that. I have not cared enough. I have turned away and walked by on the other side. I have seen human misery, and not really cared.
Perhaps there is therapy in looking pain and problems right in the eye. It is not wise to wear rose-colored glasses and pretend that everything is lovely when most assuredly it is not. And so Jeremiah had personally experienced some of this. He says he had seen affliction. "God has walled me about, so that I cannot escape," he said. "He has put heavy chains on me." (Lamentations 3: 7,8) But still the prophet could affirm,
"This I recall to my mind, 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 thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul.
Therefore I have hope in him." (Lamentations 3:21-24)
What a beautiful word ... "hope."
The Old Testament says, "God is a rock ... a shelter in the time of storm. He is a strong foundation. He is a fortress. He will not let you down."
The Old Testament is a record of hope ... of looking forward ... of believing that something better was ahead. A savior was coming. The Jews had a history of tribulation, of waiting.
What kept them going? It was hope.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases," they said. "His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness."
Francis Guither, a pastor for 46 years, is the author of seven books. Guither is retired and lives in Quincy at Good Samaritan Home with his wife, Katharine. His most recent church was Carthage United Methodist.