First off, please read our text today, which is Lamentations 3: 20-33
Verse 21 through 23, out of nowhere we read, Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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. Where did that come from? In that quick moment…everything changes. No longer is God “he” or acknowledged in third person accusatory anger! The poet now addresses God on a personal level and with words of hope, peace, joy, and rest. “Your faithfulness is great” is what he calls out from the darkness. (The poet apparently has the focus of a 2-year-old…or my own focus for that matter).
In the midst of the pain and suffering in the dirge they are all consumed in, like a flash of lightning or a light bulb that just goes off, they change course and proclaim hope in the personal God they know and have been angry with this whole time. And it’s not as if they are a dog who was focusing and then immediately sees a squirrel and goes off chasing it – their focus and topic are the same – their place and space are the same – they are still speaking to and about God it’s just they now realize that there IS hope. Going from third person to personal in their lament to God means that they have drawn close to God instead of keeping him at shouting distance. It’s a focus and shift from the emotional side of hope to the emotional AND the knowledge of hope.
It’s not that they didn’t have hope before – it’s just that in that moment hope was focused on the emotional and not the knowledge. And this shouldn’t surprise us really. I think the struggle we have with “hope” – in our faith – is that we feel it must be a constant that we always have. Hope must be our foundation. We have faith and our faith can wane at times and that’s OK and even understandable…but our hope should always be secure and stable. Right?
- We look to Jesus and our hope is in him and thus we are comforted.
- We look to the covenantal love of God and our hope is in the fact that he always holds to his law and his love – no matter what (which is something we talked extensively about last week).
- We look to the Holy Spirit and our hope is in the knowledge that He enters into our lives and gives us exactly what we need.
Hope, in most cases, is the only anchor we have in a fiercely chaotic storm of a world and life. But our text today tosses that thought aside. Our text declares that hope isn’t always constant for us and that we oftentimes, while in something terrorizing or fearful, we forget that we have both. Why? Because hope is a knowledge and feeling. And while our hopeful knowledge of God remains, our hopeful feelings are on a separate ride and can distract us from the knowledge we also hold. If we were at a carnival, “hope with knowledge” would be off eating cotton candy and riding on the merry-go-round enjoying God – “Life is good!” would be their exclamation. But hope as feelings would be on the Roller Coaster experiencing joy, anticipation, and excitement, and then absolute terror and fear. And then while on this ride hopeful feelings begins to ask questions of “why, God” and “when will this end?” and then inevitably there is crying and maybe throwing up! And during all of that? We’ve forgotten the hope we have because of the knowledge we have. We’ve forgotten where we are and that we were here with hopeful-knowledge. Because hope with emotions is completely consumed with self.
Our emotional rollercoaster of feelings of hope can get the better of us. But even though we want off this ride, even though emotionally we are all over the place – let us not forget that there STILL IS HOPE. Hope still exists. This is why it’s as if a light has come on or a coin has been flipped in our text. In the midst of all of it “hopeful knowledge” kicks in for Jeremiah. It’s as if he remembered that without hope there is no crying out to God. Without hope, there is no TURNING to God and finding hopeful comfort in him. My hope is in Him and nothing else. And it has nothing to do with Jeremiah, it has nothing to do with you or me either – it has everything to do with God. Jeremiah doesn’t have “hope” because all of a sudden he realizes there are some nails and wood in this pit of despair with him then he looks over and finds a hammer and so now he sees that he can build a ladder and climb out of this darkness. His hope is in the God he knows and has always known. He cries out in hope because he understands that DUE TO THE love of God he isn’t consumed. He proclaims that God’s compassion never fails and in fact, they are “new every morning.” He says that God is faithful, that God is his portion – which means that God is all he needs.
So here he waits. Here he sits because he knows, he declares, that he is not going to allow his emotions to get the better of him. That this yoke may be heavy, that this burden may be exhausting, that this pain may continue on but at some point… it will stop. At some point, God will lift him up and set him once more upon the throne of his grace and mercy.
His hope is not tethered, bound up, nor intertwined to God’s faithfulness…because he understands that it’s actually the same thread…the same thing. Hope IS the faithfulness of God – and this is why when we speak of hope in God it becomes 100% complete knowledge and not simply a feeling. His hope is in the fact that he knows that God is true to his word, that God is reliable, trusted, and can be believed. The faithfulness of God leads him away from the darkness, into this proclamation of hope – effectively tying his knowledge and his feelings together. This is why he is able to climb out of his anger, remember the hope of peace to come which then leads him to a prayer for the future. All the while STILL SITTING IN THE DARKNESS OF WHERE HE IS.
His situation hasn’t changed…yet.
His teeth are still ground down, his skin and flesh STILL grow old, his bones STILL are broken, he still feels walled in and cannot escape and weighed down with heavy chains. He still sees lions and bears lying in wait to mangle him…but they won’t be forever.
And why? Why does he have a change of understanding while still sitting in the same place? Because he remembers the full understanding of hope. And not a hope he has in himself – but a hope he has in God and the faithfulness God has to his people. And here is where “faithfulness” turns into something really cool – and I say that because the “faithfulness” of God is so beautifully simple and yet intricate with all these layers and levels. To me “faithfulness” is like the word “grace” – it’s so complex!
The understanding we get of God’s faithfulness is this wonderfully beautiful word:
It’s a great Hebrew word in how it’s said and by its definition: “chesed”
“Chesed” can mean kindness, loyalty, mercy, favor, and deed – but most importantly it means God’s loyal or “faithful” love. The struggle the poet had, and that he eventually came to realize and remember, was that God’s “chesed” would always be. Its yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The faithfulness, the loyalty of God simply stands and is constant through it all and no matter what. It doesn’t begin and nor does it end. Hesed is the constant loyalty and faithful love of God.
But for you and I…what does that even mean – because “chesed” is so much more than faithfulness or loyalty with love! We can break down “love” – easily. Love is a feeling, an emotion, a “thing”. We all know what love feels like because we’ve given it and received it. But what does “loyal” love look like? Because THAT is not what you and I have. Our love is fleeting – just like the emotional side of “hope”. My love is based on caveats, on people, on how I feel as well as how you reciprocate that love back to me. My love is not only based on me but it’s based on you and your response and deservedness. But God’s loyal love? Wow…that’s different. And THAT is where our poet finally kicks that switch on to.
In verse 22 he finally realizes that God’s “chesed” isn’t based on past, present, or future conditions. God’s “chesed” simply is. The “chesed” we read about, that we find comfort in, is all on God and encompasses every ounce of him and not us. His loyalty, his love, his grace, his mercy, his kindness, and his favor. But true authentic “chesed” is tied to God’s covenant. It’s God’s loyal love TO his covenant.
This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us – what it means is that God’s love is poured out and shown BY his Covenant. What it is, how it works, what it does, why he holds to it and does with it.
When God saved his people from slavery in Egypt and brought them out he showed his “chesed” – his redeeming “chesed” (Ex 15:13). And this wasn’t because they deserved it, it was simply because God did. He promised them long before that time that he would be their God and they would be his people. So chesed is based on what was said and promised and held to. So it’s a binding word AS WELL AS an emotional feeling. It’s a Covenantal “chesed” that is completely faithfully devoted and steadfast in love.
Hesed is true and trustworthy. It is intertwined, bound-up, and fulfilled in this covenantal relationship we have with God that is not based on anything else but God’s perfect pure and loyal love that is also bound up in who he is. God promised long ago that his love would be there – always. And even in the covenant, he cut with his children it was understood that his loyalty, his fidelity, his steadfastness to who he was… would always be. We see this not only in his binding word but in his binding action. It’s God saying, “While you do not and cannot hold to your part of this covenant – this doesn’t mean I will not.”
So “chesed” really needs to be understood in not only loyal love, mercy, favor, and deed – but we need to understand that this vast and intricate and complete “chesed” really is “covenantal faithfulness.” This is why the light kicks on for the poet, this is what brings him out of the darkness and given the light of hope while still in the darkness of despair. This is why he is able to pray for his future and hold firmly to the fact that this darkness will not last. Because God’s “chesed” is always present and ever-binding. God will not forget, God will relent, God will remember me and respond to my needs now…today AS WELL AS tomorrow.
And what’s really beautiful for you and I – is we know the full power of this faithfulness of God because we know what comes – not only the full extent of God’s covenant love but what he does to and with it. We know what it all truly means because we know the rest of the story – how he gives us a better covenant by fulfilling the previous one! We know it all comes to Jesus comes.
You want hope while in despair? Jesus is the only hope for you.
You want light bursting from the darkness? Jesus is that light.
You want to know and feel true love? Jesus is that love.
You want God to relent from the punishment of your sin? Jesus is THE answer.
You want to never be forgotten or abandoned? Jesus is your answer.
Why? Because through Christ “no one is cast off forever” nor does the wrath of God “consume” us. That while God may bring grief he also shows compassion and an unfailing love that is endless, boundless, and timeless and bestowed upon us. And ultimately he doesn’t sit up there harming us like some vengeful power-hungry god. He, on the other hand, brings love, peace, and hope, through his Son and his Spirit upon his undeserving children.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- I’m struck by this idea of “finding hope” – as if we had lost it or never had it. And I’m not sure I know what to do with “finding” hope. It’s as if it was hiding somewhere from us and all was lost until we found it – and now that we found it all is good. But I absolutely still get that notion. So I guess my question is how do you “find” hope whilst in the midst of despair? How do you cling to something that appears lost – which in truth it wasn’t lost we just were not looking?
- My parents have always taught me that you can always learn something and it’s something my wife and I strive to teach our kids and ask them in situations (“What did you learn from this?”). And it’s not meant as a chastisement it’s meant to bring out the hope and growth in a situation. So what lessons can we learn while “sitting silently” for God (28)? What lessons can be learned when we “bear the yoke” while still young (vs 27)?