Image of Jeremiah by Michelangelo from Sistine Chapel. Public domain in the United States as it is in public domain worldwide.
Lamentations 3: 31-33
Affliction and grief are topics near and dear to God, treated with tenderness. How can I say this? By looking at the key verse today in this devotional series on Lamentations 3: 19-36, Jeremiah's reflections upon the fall of Jerusalem and the departure of exiles to Babylon.
Please allow me a paragraph of detour into the poetry of Lamentations in order to make a point.
Per Understand Christianity, the most striking feature of Lamentations is that it is a poem composed of acrostics. Each verse or verse section begins with a consecutive letter of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. (There are subtle differences in most chapters that I'll leave to the link above). Even more fascinating, to me, is that Lamentations may be chiastically arranged (1-2-2-1 pattern), with 3: 21-42 as the centered climax. The center of that verse grouping is our passage today in verses 3: 31-33, meaning the discussion on affliction and grief is at the very heart of Lamentations!
Why would such a topic be so prominently located in Jeremiah's poem? Let's read it to find out.
For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
Jeremiah is primarily addressing the disobedience of the people that led to affliction and grief. In this case, chastisement is a tool for the Lord to guide and correct the people. He does not punish them out of anger, but out of the love of a father who must discipline his children. As a result, the nation's consequences will not last forever. God has compassion, and per Jeremiah, He only reluctantly doles out punishment when limits are exceeded.
At the same time, Jeremiah is musing about the overall character of God and the nature of suffering. We know something that Jeremiah may not: that God later came to earth in the form of Jesus, to experience affliction, suffering and grief just like us, in order to reconcile us to Him and to save us from our sins. As a result, God provides empathy to us in the midst of suffering and grief.
In my video series and book, The Next Thing: A Christian Model for Dealing with Crisis in Personal Life, I describe three promises that we can trust God to provide in the midst of crisis. One is empathy. Another is peace. God is present with us in crisis; we are not cast off. God's compassion also brings suffering and grief to an end. The peace of conclusion may or may not happen in this life, but we are told in this passage that affliction and grief do not remain with us forever.
The third promise is reclamation. Because of sin in the world, and how the world does not fit what God originally intended, affliction and grief are a part of life. God's answer is to reclaim negative events, repurposing them for good in whatever way possible. Jeremiah understands that the rubble of Jerusalem will eventually be cleared away, the exiles will return, the temple will be rebuilt, and God will reclaim the situation for good.
In the midst of your own affliction and grief, you can be assured that God will not let the pain last forever, that God did not willingly bring this trouble upon you, and that God will be present with you, offering peace and empathy and reclamation, to restore what can be restored and to patch up the rest as you allow Him.
Find those three promises and much more in The Next Thing. Allison Lambert, LPC-S, of Original Intent Counseling, wrote this in a review of The Next Thing: Faith-filled, and intertwined with Scripture, The Next Thing can be used before, during or after a crisis. It can be applied on a personal level or as an aid for grief therapy. It can be read again and again as it is adaptable to multiple scenarios. I would recommend The Next Thing to anyone who is processing a crisis or struggling with grief.
The Next Thing is available as a video series or in book format through the Cecil Taylor Ministries online store. Let it help you personally as well as those around you, in your friend group, small group and church.