Cry to God, He alone can Help
Text: Lamentations 3
Theme: cry out to God
Doctrine: Ability to Lament to God
Image: crying out to God
Need: lament over death
Message: cry out to God, he is the one who can help
Cry to God, He alone can help.
Read: Lam 3:1-20
Just before Christmas time, my grandfather passed away. He had cancer for a number of years. It began in the prostate, but he was deemed too old to receive surgery and was put on hormone treatments. The cancer's growth was slow, and he lived a productive life for quite a while. The last couple of years it was obvious he was declining rapidly. He was put on many medications, and they slurred his speech and confused his thinking. The last month of his life was really quite awful. He was brought to the hospital in Calgary with excruciating pain in his legs. The cancer had spread into the tissue around his groin area, and had actually cut off the flow of fluid through the lymph system in his legs. The fluid build up was severe and his legs ballooned to three or four times their normal size. They were so full that the fluid began to seep through the skin, soaking the sheets on the bed. Needless to say, he was confined to bed. He was in so much pain that it was even difficult to take in a full breath. His lungs began to fill with fluid as well, making his breath gurgle and rendering it impossible to speak. They moved him to hospice care in Lethbridge where the family could go and say their last goodbyes. My sister took my nephew, Spencer, who was four at the time, to see him and say goodbye. They walked into the room where the only sounds were the incessant beeping and clicking of monitors, and the ragged breath of my grandfather. It was hard for my nephew to understand how Grandpa got that way. After they said their goodbyes and were leaving the hospital, Spencer turned to his mum and said, “Why does Grandpa have to suffer so much? Its just not fair!”
Page 1: The Israelites are in Babylon and are experiencing punishment for the sins of the past.
You can hear that complaint in the beginning of Lamentations 3. You can hear the writer crying out to God, “Why do I have to suffer so much? Its just not fair!” These lamentations were written after the Israelites had been sent into captivity. The Israelites were God's chosen people, yet here they were in captivity. God had graciously brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery, yet here they were enslaved in Assyria and Babylon. The Israelites had lost a lot when they were sent into captivity, as the psalmist says in Ps 137 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy."
In Lamentations the writer is bemoaning his existence in Babylon. He is complaining about what God has done against his people. Look at how he describes God. “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light.” “He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.” “He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.” or as the English Standard Version puts it, "He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is."
This is the same God who brought the Israelites to the land of Canaan; who gave them peace, prosperity, and happiness. The writer has heard all the stories of the wonderful things that happened to the Israelites in the old days. He wonders why his experience of God is so much different from those stories? Where is the God of the covenant? Why is God being so mean to him? Why is God doing this to his people? What has he done to deserve this? What has God got against him? Can you hear the writer crying out to God, “Its not fair! Why are you doing this to me?” just like my nephew Spencer?
Page 2: The people of God have been exiled from Eden since Adam and Eve, we are constantly experiencing the punishment for sins.
Can you hear those around you, crying out the same thing to God. “God, its not fair! Why did you take my son? Why did you make my daughter handicapped? Why did you give my father cancer? Why did you end my sister's marriage so painfully? Why did you make my husband suffer so much before he died? Why did you slowly steal my wife's memory until she couldn't even remember me? Why did you take my grandfather and grandmother so close together? God, its not fair! Why are you doing this to me?”
Often when we ask others why there is so much evil in the world, they give us some pat answer about it all turning out to the good. But that doesn't quite seem right, does it? Did Grandpa have to lay in bed the last few weeks of his life, slowly suffocating from the fluid building up in his lungs? Surely his suffering could have been reduced? Surely there is evil in the world which is far worse than any good that can come of it. It may be the case that contracting cancer would deepen your prayer life, but it seems cruel to think of God saying, “Hey Chad, you need to deepen your prayer life, how about a little cancer.” Doesn't it?
We know that the world is the way it is because our spiritual parents broke faith with God in the garden, leaving us cast out of Eden. We know that creation has been broken and we are constantly experiencing the punishment for their sin. But what has that got to do with us? We seem to be punished for something that we did not do. Our spiritual parents broke faith with God, not us, right? I remember when I was growing up my mum and dad would send us kids out into the shelter belt to how weeds. Our home is only about a half hour from the mountains, and we often get days with sustained winds around 30-40 miles per hour. To make our homestead a bit more liveable we planted five rows of trees a quarter of a mile long, each. Southern Alberta does not get much rain either, so if you wanted the trees to live, you had to make sure to eliminate all competition. This meant that we had to go out with a hoe and kill all the weeds which grew around every tree. There were many a hot dusty day when I grew to hate Adam and Eve. It was their fault all these weeds were in the soil. If they could only have kept their hands off the fruit in the garden of Eden, I wouldn't have to hoe all those weeds.
That is so many of us feel toward the brokenness of the world. Now, some of the punishment we experience is, at least in part, a result of the sins which we commit; people go to jail for criminal activity, people contract sexually transmitted diseases from promiscuous lifestyles, people get lung cancer from years of smoking. But we also experience punishment for sins which we did not commit; natural disasters and disease which wipe out entire populations for example. These are not punishments we can relate directly to sins, but we know they are punishment. They result from the brokenness of creation which is a part of the curse which fell because of Adam and Eve's sin, just like those weeds I had to hoe when I was younger.
We know that much of what happens in this world is not how the world was meant to be. We know that the world was not meant to be torn apart by war. We know that the world was not meant to have millions of people die each day simply because they cannot get enough food to eat. We know that the world was not meant to have differences between people escalate into racism or genocide. We know that the world was not meant to have the people we love; friends, spouses, parents, grandparents, and siblings, die.
Major tragedies grab people's attention. News stations keep us up to date on the death toll of the latest earthquake, or tsunami, or hurricane. But what about other, more 'everyday' tragedies? What about the fact that my Grandpa died just before Christmas, after years of his own battle with cancer? What about the fact that Grandma Dorothy died two months later, simply from old age? I comfort myself that they did not have to suffer too much, that their passing was rather easy, but it is still hard to come to terms with their loss. I no longer have living biological Grandparents. These are losses which are close to my heart, and many of you have had similar losses. The table at the Easter celebration is a person short. The birthday of a son is no longer celebrated. A daughter's sweet sixteen is never reached. The fiftieth anniversary of a parent's wedding day is celebrated by only one member of the couple. A daughter is molested by her father. A brother is killed by a drunk driver. Why do these things happen? Where is God in all of this? Sure, we have a theological answer for this question. We know that the evil in the world is a result of punishment for sin. It is a result of the broken relationship between God and humankind, but does this heal our aching hearts? It is for these losses that we cry out to God, “It is not fair!”
Page 3: The Israelites can hope, and not complain under their punishment, because “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:22, ESV)
But this is not how Lamentations 3 ends. Right in the middle of this passage of complaint, we get an amazing affirmation of faith. Turn with me to verse 21.
Read Lamentations 3:21-33
Though he is weeping and wailing by the streams of Babylon, the writer can make a surprising statement of faith. As the ESV puts it, "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."
From here on in, the writer's story changes in tune, he is no longer complaining. This statement of faith has a profound impact on the manner in which he addresses God. The Lord is now his portion and he will hope in him, the Lord is good to him, it is good to bow in obedience to God and put your face in the dust, because God does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. The Israelites were to be the instrument through whom the nations would see God, and instead they turned aside to idols. He allowed them to turn aside from him, but he had not intended it that way. It was not his will to punish the Israelites, because it was not his will for them to turn away from him.
Even so, the wsriter can affirm that everything comes from the hand of the Lord. As he says in vss 37 and 38; “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?" Jeremiah realises that everything is under God's control. This has quite an effect on him and he chides himself for complaining to God about his problems. “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?” Why indeed? Who can look on the mind of God and tell me what they see? Who can penetrate the dark recesses of his conscious and discern his reasons? Jeremiah knows why Israel suffers, it is because of their sin. He does not know why he has to suffer for their sins, yet he rests secure in the knowledge that God will make things right. This is what follows in the rest of Lamentations 3. Jeremiah rests secure in the hope that he expressed in vss 22 and 23 “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.” He goes the one place where his voice could be heard. He goes to the one person who could do anything about the suffering he is facing. He appeals to God. He realises that the God of the covenant is still there listening to him. He realises that he still has a relationship with God, and this is what he appeals to. He lays his case before the lord, and asks to be delivered.
Page 4: We can hope, and not complain under our punishment, because “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39, NIV)
We can do the same. We can appeal to God to fix what has happened that is not right in the world. Along with this writer, in the midst of our pain and tribulation we can say, “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." But how do we respond to all this pain and suffering in the world? Why did my Grandpa have to suffer so much at the end of his life? Why did my Grandma Dorothy have to die so suddenly that no one got to say goodbye? Some people asked Jesus a question like this. Remember, Jews thought that suffering could be linked to a person's sins. Job's friends thought he was suffering because he had sinned. The Pharisee's thought a man was born blind because of his sin, or his parents sins. Now, Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were in the temple courts, and the people with Jesus wondered if they died because they were more sinful than others. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!” See, we are all sinful. We all share in the guilt of Adam and Eve's sin. We suffer and die because we, as humans, have stained God's good creation with our sin.
The writer tells us that we are not to complain about the punishment we experience for this guilt. "Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord." (Lamentations 3:39-40, NIV) This seems to be a bit hypocritical, doesn't it? Is he saying we are to keep our mouths shut when we suffer? Does this mean that we are always supposed to sing happy go lucky songs? Does this mean that believers are not supposed to mourn when bad things happen? No. Just like this writer, we can turn to God and lament our lot. We can lay our case before him, and beg for his deliverance. At the end of this chapter, the writer cries out to God for salvation from his suffering. He turns his problems over to God. Turn with me to the vs 55.
Read Lamentations 3:55-66
This chapter shows us that we are allowed to cry out to God in the midst of our suffering. We are able to go to the one person who is able to do anything about the problems we experience. We know that God has it all under control. We do not know why we are allowed to suffer. We do not know why bad things happen in the world, but we have an amazing hope. We have the hope that God will vindicate us in the end. We have the hope that our sufferings will not overwhelm us. We have the hope that our lives are now locked safely in Christ.
We suffer the effects of sin everyday. The blessing that is found in this passage is that we can lament the existence of sin and its effects in the world, we can cry out to God against the suffering we or family members experience, we can do this because we know that ultimately God is in control. We can lament the effects of sin in the world, because we know that God is the master controller. We have the knowledge that Paul expresses to the Romans. “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)
Let us Pray
Dear Lord, we suffer the effects of sin in the world. We hear on the news the tragedies that happen daily. We experience the searing pain of loss, and the sharp sting of death. We suffer under the burden of a world that has been stained by sin, wrenched from the path you intended. This world is full of horrible things that we cannot bear alone. We need your guidance. We need your love. We know that you are the one who is in control, and that is why we lament. We come to you to heal our hurts, to bind our wounds, and to fix our broken hearts. Lord, make us feel your presence. Wrap your arms around us and guard us. Cover us with the protection of your love, and carry us through our pain.