Lamentations 5:19-22 A Last-Ditch Prayer

First off, let’s begin by reading our reflection text today, which is Lamentations 5: 19-22.

Taken on its own, these 4 verses seem rather random – so let’s not let that randomness stand and recall what was just taking place (as it is one large reflection). If you recall, or you can pause here and read all of Lamentations 5) Jeremiah, and the people of God, have called out in despair to God. They are at the ends of their rope, have just given God this litany of issues (quickly let out unto God in bullet-point style) and as their pleas have been building and building, and as they come to the end….we get this quick “you, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.” to all the sudden, “have you forgotten us? Are you even there? Restore us…or have you rejected us completely?” WHAT?! What is the deal here!?  

If I’m honest I can’t really blame the people of God. They have been through hell and they keep waiting for a reprieve and nothing has happened. Emotionally they are all over the map as they work through their current experiences with feelings and emotions and things seen and experienced coupled with what their heart tells them about the God who restores. They’ve been tossed and turned like waves rolling in and out only to slap against the rocks and splatter all over the place. Emotionally, physically, mentally, they are wrecked and it comes out in these final verses. It’s why they can go from a declarative hope to an utter feeling of rejection. It’s as if they’ve hit this crescendo only to trail off in a feeling of hopelessness and fear of abandonment – and not abandonment but REJECTION. “Unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.” Remember us God – unless we have been so bad that you cannot and will not.

This is the cry of someone who knows what they have done. It’s a bit on the dramatic side but when you do not see the storm subsiding…what other feelings do you feel? And this text ends with that hanging fear, question, and unknown. It’s this, “I know you are there God, I know you hear me…but…I guess that’s it. That’s all I have…” And while they toss this up to God and wait…God does not speak. The feeling of abandonment and rejection is real – and we’re drawn into it. This is what, I think, the author wants us to know, see, and feel. This is a real feeling that is being experienced.

Is there anything worse than feeling like you are rejected? Being rejected reaches beyond the present. Being rejected, especially by someone, affects our future. It’s crippling and debilitating. When you are rejected you begin to live with self-doubt, fear, and grief. Being rejected from someone affects your confidence, your actions, your mood, and becomes all-consuming. Every area of your life now is invaded by this action that someone took against you. Because to be rejected declares that you aren’t wanted, needed, or desired. It means you’re not worth it. You’re not worth the time, the effort, or even any love. But what about the fear of being rejected by God? What if you had this feeling that you were running towards God, seeking God, crying out to him and he…just kept on walking away? What if you lived with that fear that you were utterly cast aside and that God has moved on? That he doesn’t want you or care for you any more?

How many of us have ever felt that or feared that!? That what you have done has put you so far away from God, so far into his wrath and anger that you felt there was no coming back? That what you have done is so bad there simply was no way God would allow you back into his arms, back into his graces, and the last thing he would want would be to give you a future with him?

That’s the fear in our text. Lamentations 5, this prayer, is great that we FINALLY see a true prayer to God being sent up…but in this prayer the poet can’t get past this feeling that it’s too late. Too much has been done. Too much sin has taken place. Too many lies have been told, lives have been lost, false gods have been worshiped, leaders have led them astray, and time has passed. They have pushed God away and aside for far too long… “Will my prayer even be heard now? Will God do to us what we have done to him?”

I picture this as a “hail marry” prayer and petition. “This is me, tossing up all that I have left in hopes of you, God…by chance, turning around and seeing your people. We have nothing left – literally…but you. Remember us Lord. Look at us, please…and see us once more.”

In this prayer the poet’s words are meant to pull on God’s heartstrings. They aren’t asking God to remember who they were. They aren’t asking God to forget where they were or ignore the things that they did that put them there. They are asking God to see them, where they are, right now. See ME AS I AM.

“We have no land, we have no fathers or mothers. We don’t have water or food. We’ve had to support and make vows to Egypt and Assyria! The very people that attacked us, enslaved us, and are our enemies…today we sleep with them. Don’t hold against us what our forefathers did. See me now, in the present. Look at the violation our women have had done to them. Look at the boys who are dying in the mills. Look at the pain and suffering we endure.”

Those words are from someone who realizes they are done – which is why this truly is a prayer. They realize that it is all in God’s hands. As one author writes, “God holds the power in this relationship and God must take the initiative now.” (O’Connor). They have laid everything at the throne of God. They have poured out their current situation at the feet of God and declared, “Our future is in your hands.” This is what the Old Testament is really about! A conversation back and forth between the people and God. About prayers being lifted up, answered, and worked through. It’s about God’s continuous work. Returning time and time again and the people time and time again needing to return and go to God.

What I’ve tried to do all along in this series, is allow the struggle and the voice of the poet to stand. If they are feeling abandoned and forsaken than we need to honor that. We need to allow their pains to speak, their fears to cry out, and their sins to stand. If we want to understand what is going on, if we want to feel safe lamenting ourselves and in our own space, then we cannot jump to conclusions or push something into the text that isn’t there.

And this may sound weird, but what is so good about Lamentations 5 is that they are seeking the very thing that gives YOU AND I hope and comfort today. Their fear is the unimaginable: that God would reject and abandon them. And while this is a very real feeling for them this simply, and there may be times when you and I feel that is possible, it is simply not the case – and is in fact a lie. And we know this because we know the complete story – and this is part of the struggle of the Old Testament. You and I are able to find hope in the Old Testament because we have the New Testament to hold up next to it. We’re able to see pain and suffering and darkness in one and then find the beautiful glorious color of hope, joy, restoration and salvation in the other. And there’s a word for this,   it’s called “soteriology” – which simply means the “doctrine of salvation.” We know, because of the gospels, that the end isn’t God walking away and abandoning his people. That this fear of our sin making God so angry with us that he casts us aside and rejects us is NOT what happens nor is it the end of the story. We know that because of God’s love, because of his grace, because of Jesus Christ we are gathered in, restored, given hope, and given something even BETTER than those…and it’s something that the poet laments on and desires. That HIS story is one of sacrifice, hope, restoration, sanctification, and justification. Those are a lot of big words but we can break them down and funnel them into one word: Redeemed.

I want to draw you to verse 16 of chapter 5. What is it that you see that they are lamenting? The crown and that it has fallen. And why has the crown fallen? Because of sin! That, right there, are the two realities we live with that soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, deals with. As I said, the Old Testament was about this continuous dialog between the people of God. It was about God continuously picking up that crown and putting it back on his covenantal people’s head only to have it fall off again because our brokenness couldn’t keep it on. It is about sin and repentance and sin and repentance and forgiveness and sin with more forgiveness and all the while this crying out that something else needed to be done. Sin simply was, and is, relentless and the people were not moving closer to God. So this dialogue, between God and his people, continuously happens and we have events after events after events of forgiveness markers taking place.

But now? Because of Christ? There is no more dialogue. There is no need to toss up these hail marry prayers of forgiveness and requesting God to turn back to them. There is no need to feel utterly abandoned and rejected and cast aside. Because Christ came, worked, and reigns forever. The doctrine of salvation declares that Christ saves. End of conversation. One person, one act, one shed-blood, one saving act of grace on the part of God.

The people wanted their crown back? The people wanted it picked up off the ground, dusted off, and handed it back to them. Knowing that this was not something they could do on their own, knowing that God was holding all the cards, knowing that it was all on him or nothing at all…and God declares, “You are not forgotten, forsaken, rejected, or cast aside. In fact…not only is your crown back? But you are heirs to my kingdom. I have adopted you, called you my own, and set you up next to me.

That, right there, is the implication for you and I. There is NOTHING you can do that would push God so far away from you that he would reject you and toss you aside. There is nothing you can do to where God says, “You no longer wear my crown.” If that were the case then all that Christ did, all that Christ endured, all the sacrifice Christ made to restore the relationship and bring ultimate restoration would be moot – and we’d have no conversation or true definition of “grace”.

Christ’s work…was and is COMPLETE.

We read in John 1:12 that all those who believe in Christ, all those who utter his name, all those who receive him as their Lord and Savior are…. “children of God.” And if we are children, as Paul tells us, then we are heirs with Christ. So if we are heirs with Christ than we are benefactors of God’s glory. (Rom 8:17). And this is a glory and inheritance that can never perish or spoil or fade or be taken from you (1 Peter 1:4). And nowhere do we find in Scripture that that adoption as children and heirs comes with a checklist of things we must do to hold the crown. To be an heir and adopted child of God stands on its own. It’s by what Christ has done and not you. It’s by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s anointing and repositioning the crown that we are adopted and made heirs. Sin had kept people at bay from God – but Christ pulled the people back into God’s embrace. Sin kept people constantly feeling like this was the last straw for God, that God would not let us back in – but God would never let that happen. God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, put that final stamp and exclamation point on sin and destruction.

The pain of how this text ends is that it seems hopeless – and yet it is not. Their feeling is absolutely real and I cannot imagine the distress this puts someone in. They feel so far cast down that God has walked away from everything with them. What else could explain this prolonged pain and suffering that they are experiencing? But we need to understand that their prayer, this prayer, YOUR prayers MEAN SOMETHING because God hears it.

And I think, in a very tangible way, the people knew that they were NOT hopeless. They prayed BECAUSE they knew God was still there, watching, listening, seeing, and remembering. You and I, when we are feeling alone and abandoned and even forgotten by God do we stop praying? Do we walk away? Do we stop, turn around, and go somewhere else? No! We pray and offer up to God our authentic raw emotions because we know he is there and will respond! And the peace we have is that regardless of how we feel and regardless of what we’ve done…there is no such thing as “rejection” nor God being so “angry with us beyond measure.”

If we have learned anything from the series on Lamentations it should be that the pain that the poet and people feel is honest and real… as are ours. And pain means nothing if offered up to nothing or nobody – but our pains aren’t offered up to nobody, they’re offered up to God and he says that they mean something (Mark 11:24; Psalm 102:17; Psalm 66:17-20; John 16:24). But I think more than anything laments are honest and real because they speak and groan for hope that is to come.

And let me add that our pain and grief are not pointless… They mean something too. And they mean something because they point to what we long for and need and know is right and true and given to us. Our laments call forth to Christ. They seek out the Holy Spirit and pull us towards healing, restoration, and comfort from the only one who can give us those very things we need. No, God does not abandon, forsake, or reject.

When we petition to God and request him to see us, and look upon us, and hear us, and respond to us we must ALWAYS remember that God’s response was, is, and will always be, “Yes. I see you, my child, and heir…I see you. Your pain isn’t eternal – your crown will return. Because I have adopted you and placed you next to me. You are my child…my heir. There is nothing you can do to take that away – for I have done everything to give it to you.

3 Questions for you to think through

  1. What stands out for you in this text? Why?
  2. Why is it that a feeling of being abandoned by God can cause so much damage within us? We don’t see it in scripture and yet that voice nags at us – why?
  3. It seems like drama frequently finds its way into our lives – and we see that here as Jeremiah asks why God “always” forget us. Clearly that is NOT the case and yet it’s an honest feeling. How do you feel about how they end this book?

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