Who is God and what does that mean? That’s what we’re looking at today. So, before we get too far please read our text today, which is Lamentations 3: 34-36.
The truth of who God is does a few things for us. In one sense it gives us a reality check as the truth of who God is challenges us to live and abide by that truth. So when we understand who God is, his nature and characteristic, we understand how WE are called to live as well. So when we read the OT and read all those Levitical laws that are set out (some 613 by Jewish tradition) we understand that these are not just random laws and God is up there saying, “Hahaha..I came up with a new Law for them to do – just for fun!” Instead, each law is a representation of the nature and characteristic of God. That these laws are not in place to trap us but to set us free. That they are here to lead and guide us into a healthy, good, loving, and grace-filled relationship with God, each other, and all of creation. So knowing the truth of who God is draws into him and guides us into a holy and grace-filled life.
In another sense the truth of who God is brings us peace during times of trouble. Our hope isn’t built off of some unknown truths or hopeful expectations – but our hope is secure in the knowledge of who God is, the things he declares, the truth he gives, and the very nature of him and his character. So when things happen or take place we can see it through the lens of God. That since we know him and his truth we can respond and know certain things. For instance, we know that God is good – always. THAT is his nature. He cannot NOT be good. Now we may wander and sway when we are chastised and punished when we do wrong and wonder if God really IS good (not unlike a child who is punished by their parent when they are naughty) – but that’s our feelings and our feelings do not, and cannot, change the very character and nature of God (you can read Psalm 34 and 145 for some good texts concerning the “goodness” of God).
We know that God is holy (or another word would be “righteous”) and that everything he does reflects his holiness. It’s why we were kicked out Eden (a holy God cannot be around unholy things), it’s why we have the Laws (see the opening paragraph) and why for Christians we declare Jesus Christ and his work (life, death, resurrection – see John 3:16 for that one). And with that holiness and righteousness we too understand that we are called to live there as well. And ultimately, it is here, with the character of who God is, where Jeremiah is reminded of his hope. It’s here that his perspective of the situation he is in changes. The situation itself doesn’t change but Jeremiah’s understanding, and feelings, do.
So if we remember, at this point in Lamentations 3 (as well as the other two chapters), Jeremiah has shifted from some outside observer to a man within the people and city. He no longer sees but feels. And he’s gone from darkness and hopelessness into hope and a future. It doesn’t make the reality of the pain and suffering any easier as it’s all still his reality – but what he does now is cling to the hope of God. He’s taken his feelings, emotions, and “truths” and come to the understanding that God does not sit idly by. That the very nature of who God is doesn’t only give him hope but it reminds him that the experiences he has, and sees, will not go unpunished, unnoticed, and ignored by God. So the prisoners WILL be redeemed and restored, the justice given to humanity WILL be set back in place, and the injustice being done is seen, will be addressed, and God will be just in HIS judgment. Jeremiah realizes that the affliction one has means something different when placed within the character of God.
This is good and wonderful and a truth that takes time to swallow BECAUSE Jeremiah isn’t stating this about what people do to THEM and him – but Jeremiah has come to the realization that the very nature and characteristic of who God is has COMPELLED GOD to do it TO THEM. Israel is the one who crushed prisoners under their feet. Israel and Judah are the ones who denied justice to others while in the very presence of God. And THEY are the ones who acted in a way that the Lord does not approve and in the very opposite of the nature and characteristics of God. That God told them clearly NOT to act in these ways and yet they have (Exod 23:6; Psalm 69:33; Isaiah 10:1-2). And so that very same nature and characteristic of God is going to bring justice – and he did so by allowing others to bring HIS justice upon them. Jeremiah realizes that the nature of God does not change depending on who the people are doing the harm. Israelite, Babylonian, Assyrian – it doesn’t matter. Going against the nature of God means that you will be punished as God cannot go against who he is and his justice is unbiased. Sin is sin – sinner is sinner – and justice is justice. The very covenant of God requires that he responds because he WILL ALWAYS BE faithful to his word, nature, and being.
And so what these 3 verses do is help us understand our time of afflictions, help us remember the nature of who God is, help guide us into a place of holiness, but also remind us that all we do has consequences and so think about your actions! But this is also more than that as these verses are not about punishment but holiness. These verses declare that God seeks restoration and a future. That yes we affirm and need to understand that God hates sin and actively works to wipe it out but we ALSO affirm that God does this TO RESTORE his lost, harmful, and confused children. That God punishes so that we return to him and his ways (Deut 30:1-10). That the nature of God is love, hope, restoration, and a future and in order to get there the sin itself must be dealt with. Once more I’m drawn to the truth of Jesus Christ and how he came to deal with sin once and for all. That no matter the punishment we received the lessons were not being learned by you and I. And so God, in his knowledge, AND IN HIS VERY LOVING NATURE, knew that the only way to combat sin and destruction and the harm we would do would be to send his Son to die for us. To take on sin and death and live into HIS nature for us. So at the cross we get both sides of God’s nature at play: the destruction of sin and the restoration of the sinner. It’s through Christ’s perfect life and his atoning work for us that our sins are forgiven.
Understanding the nature of God brings you and I the peace and hope we need. That when injustice happens we can hurt and be acted to move because we too are called to respond as God would. That we live into his very nature on this earth as that’s who he’s called us to be and how we are called to live. But it also challenges us to look within. To understand our own brokenness and responses to ________…responses to life and to understand that God punishes his children because of his covenant, because of his love, and his desire for us to be healthy, whole, and holy. And it’s here that we have hope. Hope in the God who is active, hope in the God who redeemed and restored, and hope in the God who truly wants the best for his kingdom.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- Why is it that in the middle of being punished the LAST thing we come to is that our punishment is being done out of love. That our first feeling is may vindictive, or “heavy-handed” or any other places? That when a parent says, “I’m doing this because I love you” that it just doesn’t FEEL like love?
- This text also beautiful states that God is watching – always. That not only will he respond but all is known to him. It really puts an interesting way to look at our lives and the things we do – that God is always watching. Does God want us to live lives in fear of his always-on-camera and what it will catch and see?