Learning to Lament part 5.
Being Hopeful (Read Lamentations 3:1-39).
I have said the difference between crying, which is human, and lamenting, which is Christian, is that crying is without hope, whereas Lament is hopeful.
Lament is prayer. It is directed toward God, it turns to the one from whom our help comes (Psalm 121), it is not helpless. Lament prays because there is HOPE. The big difference, therefore, between crying and lamenting, is HOPE.
As we learn to Lament, therefore, we must learn to be hopeful.
“We do not grieve as others do, as those who have NO HOPE” (1 Thessalonians. 4:13). Yes, Christians grieve, but not without HOPE.
Four things to understand about hope as we learn to Lament.
Our hope falters.
If we are REALISTIC and HONEST, as described in the two previous articles, then we must admit that our level of hope fluctuates. Sometimes we are very hopeful, sometimes not so much, and sometimes we even feel hopeless. Even while we may be hopeful about eternity, the situations and circumstances here and now cause us to be less than hopeful in the present.
Consider the fluctuations in Jeremiah’s hope. In Lamentations 3:18 he has lost hope, and no wonder, considering the situation described in verses 1-17. In verse 21 he has regained hope or is in the process of regaining it. In verse 24 he makes a determined decision to hope, and in verse 29 he is again questioning hope. Notice that there isn’t a neat progression from lost hope to regained hope. It does not move from lost hope to questioned hope, to intentional hope, and finally arriving at regained hope. It’s more like a roller coaster ride. He goes, from lost hope to regained hope, to intentional hope, and then to questioned hope.
That is the way life happens. Situations and circumstances change, things happen, and our hope fluctuates accordingly. So, take heart wherever you are on that roller coaster. Don’t let moralistic triumphalists make you feel guilty if you are not at the peak. Work toward the peak by remembering these next points.
We have a future hope.
Unlike unbelievers who have no hope beyond this life, and therefore in the face of death that can strike at any moment, have no actual hope; we have a sure hope, an eternal future.
That hope, according to 1 Thessalonians 4, is:
rooted in the past (v14), in the death & resurrection of our Lord,
is assured for the future (v14b-16), the day of his return,
includes all Christians – dead or alive (v14b-15),
is assured for eternity (v17)
and is glorious (v16) (cf. 1Corinthians 15:49-53 and Revelation. 21).
This hope is not limited to the Lord’s return. Should my earthly life end right now, I have a future, “absent from the body, … present with the Lord” (2Corinthians 5:8). The glorious hope of being in the presence of the Lord when this life is done.
Paul Tripp commenting on 1 Peter 1:3-6 says, “Peter cannot think about today’s suffering (& grief) without looking at it from the perspective of an eternity tomorrow. … Peter is saying that what is coming is a critical lens for understanding our present painful experiences. When we put on these gospel glasses, we indeed will experience “living hope.”
That leads to the third thing about HOPE in Lamenting.
It is a present hope.
Lamentations 3:21 expresses a present hope, “I HAVE hope”. He had regained hope after having lost it in Verse 18. In verses 19 and 20 he is still suffering and depressed, his soul is bowed down within him, and yet, in that state, calls “this” to mind, and his hope is restored and is present.
What is the “this” that he calls to mind? In the context of Lamentations, i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., we would expect it to be some future promise, a future hope, for Jerusalem such as Isaiah 65:17-19 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress”. We may expect it to be the prophecy given to him in (Jeremiah 25:11), and “when the seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10). But no! What he calls to mind is Lamentation 3:22-24a, which causes him to be determined in his hope (Lamentation 3:24b).
In the scrambled egg of verses 16-20, his hope is found, not in the promises for the future, but in the here and now of God’s faithfulness, love, mercies (v22), goodness (v25) (cf. v31-33), and in His Sovereignty (v37-39).
Most important of all is that his present hope is found in the Lord’s presence, here and now (v24a). In times of trouble, having a present hope is essential. We may not “feel” it, but we do have such a hope. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3). “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
All of this is true because in the final analysis, …
It is Christian hope.
How does Jeremiah get from verse 18 “My future is lost, as well as my hope from the LORD”, and verse 29 “perhaps there is still hope”, to verses 22-25, and verses 31-33. How does he do it with such certainty?
How does he get from verses 15-17 to verses 22&23? How does he get from verse16 to verses 23-25, and from verse 32a to verse 32b? Only one way. Through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Although “speaking then more than he knew”, Jeremiah was speaking of Christ. Who better fits the descriptions of Lamentations 1:12 and chapter 3 verses 1, 8, 13-15, and 30?
At the cross Christ suffered beyond description, SO THAT in Him we may receive the grace, and mercy, and compassion of God, so that we can echo the words of Paul in Romans 8:31-39.
As we learn to Lament. To turn to God, through Christ our Lord; to complain, to grieve, to repent, to ask, to trust; let us do so: realistically, honestly, and HOPEFULLY. Finding our hope in Christ alone.
In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ, I stand
I personally can never sing: “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny” without Lamenting. It takes me back to when I was present at my son Clifford’s birth and to when I came upon the scene of his death, his car crushed under the concrete mixer. It takes me to the Magistrates’ office where I sat with his Birth certificate in one hand and his death certificate in the other. I lament each time we sing those words, but I do so in hope. Hope for Clifford and hope for me. The hope of:
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ, I’ll stand
Learn to lament with HOPE, hope IN HIM.