Robust Christianity in the face of a pandemic requires an ability to multi-think. You need to hold two things in your mind at once. The depressing news and speculation about the length of time that social distancing will be required can be all consuming such that we lose any sense of God. But, on the flip side it is not the case that the Bible envisages us being so caught up in God that the agony of the world becomes irrelevant. No- you hold the pain of the world and the reality of the Lord’s control together. It is why the Christian life, rightly understood, is sorrowful yet always rejoicing.
Lamentations points us in this direction. In the first post we looked at this Old Testament book as an A-Z of grief. Our author (probably Jeremiah) carefully describes the sheer agony of what has happened to Jerusalem. And he doesn’t avoid the difficult conclusion- it is the Lord who has done it as a response to Israel’s sin. Though that can be difficult to stomach, in the end it is good news- because you know where to go with your lament. So we saw the call to God’s people to pray and pour out their hearts to the Lord. And in addition, it is the truth of God’s sovereignty that provides the people with a second perspective to put alongside their grief.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” (3:19-21). Notice the two thoughts in Jeremiah’s mind. He has both a downcast soul because of the bitterness of exile and he also has hope. Where does his hope come from?
The daily mercies of the Lord
“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.” (3:22-23). I have heard a lot of people say (and have felt it myself) that one of the pains of lockdown is that every day feels the same. You wake up to another day of apparent monotony- whether that includes loneliness, stress at work or family responsibilities without much of the variety and pleasures that enliven our normal routine. And yet Lamentations points us to another way in which every day is the same. We awake and say- “This is another day of the Lord’s mercies towards me.” It is vital to add that perspective to the grimness that could otherwise be all consuming. How do we see the Lord’s compassions towards us? If I can put it bluntly- by realising that it could be a lot worse! Jeremiah sees God’s love in the fact that the people were not completely wiped out for that is what they deserved for their rebellion against God. Indeed- as he goes on to say “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins?” (3:39). That the people survived should be a source of gratitude rather than complaint at the difficult circumstances. We need that same perspective. I know that life is tough at the moment- but actually each morning is one where the Lord is treating us better than our sins deserve. Where there are still things to enjoy and we have a knowledge of His love- that is His compassion to us day by day. And a knowledge that each morning is a new day of His love can change our perspective.
Moreover, it is worth reflecting on the day by day provision of the Lord’s kindness. One of the realities that is beginning to strike me is that it will be some time before life regains much sense of normality. That can be fear inducing. We may not be greatly enjoying the current situation- what will it feel like in three weeks time? Or three months time? But God doesn’t tend to download three months of resources on us all at once. It will simply be the case that each morning and each day we will receive sufficient of His mercy. That’s what I need to- and can trust- even as I lament over the challenges we currently face.
But there is a second piece of good news.
The suffering will end
There are different perspectives in the book about the future. At various moments Jeremiah appears to express confidence. “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (3:26) “No one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” (3:31-32). “Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion; he will not prolong your exile.” (4:22). And yet the final verse of the book appears to strike a note of uncertainty. “Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.” (5:21-22). At one moment there is confidence whilst it seems that at others there is uncertainty as to whether Israel has gone beyond the reach of the Lord’s mercy. Perhaps exiles are as bad as pandemics for mood swings. Which is it to be- confidence for the future or a nation beyond hope? History gives the answer. The Lord did bring the people back from the exile ultimately. More than that the Lord Jesus came to bring people of Israel and beyond back from the ultimate exile of sin to the home of God’s presence- by standing under the same wrath of God for rebellion that brought the exile. Jesus shows that God is committed to giving a wandering people a bright future.
All of which means that this pandemic will end one day. And on a later day the pandemic of sickness, pain and death will be fully and finally wiped out. That won’t be the work of a scientist but of Almighty God. Many downcast souls are desperate for hope at the moment. We, as those who trust Jesus, have it. Because God has promised that this will end. All that is required is to wait out this current grief with patience. One day salvation will come.
So- we need to see the necessity of multi-thinking. We don’t need to deny the awfulness of the situation across the world. But we don’t consider that alone. As we live through it we continue to experience the Lord’s mercies daily. And ultimately those mercies will pour down upon us on the day when lamentations will be required no more.