Even a quick glance at entertainment, TV shows, movies or music, reveals that people are on a quest to experience love. There may be some disagreements about what that love looks like and how it is found, but we are agreed that there is something called love that is worth finding.
So where do we experience this love? Some fictional romances like to offer an ideal setting but the truth is often more messy.
What about experiencing the love of God? Perhaps some people have experienced the love of God on top of a mountain looking at a beautiful sunrise. But is often in the difficult times that we discover God’s love. This is true in the Bible as well.
We are going to look at God’s love but we are going to do it by looking at the little read book of Lamentations. If you are having a bad day, don’t just start reading random verses from Lamentations. Some of it can be pretty rough. A lamentation is a funeral song. It is not a eulogy, such as when give highlights of the good memories of the deceased. The dictionary gives this definition: “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping.”
Many Canadians, shaped by British culture, are uncomfortable with this kind of lament. At many funerals, I have had people apologize simply for having their eyes well up with tears. However, this is not the way it is everywhere. In many places, people give full expression to their grief. This is true for the ancient Hebrews as well. I suspect it is more emotionally healthy to express the grief.
So who has died in this book of Lamentations? It is not a person but the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not just any city, it was the one place that God had chosen to dwell. It was the place of the only legitimate temple. The Babylonians had smashed the walls and destroyed the temple. There is nothing equivalent in our experience of what the destruction of Jerusalem meant to the people. The only natural response was to offer a funeral lament, to give full vent to their grief and sorrow. But in the midst of this, we get a reminder of God’s love. Let’s take a look.
God Loves Us
One of the things that I like about the Psalms is the raw expression of emotion. Many of those are Psalms of lament. Lamentations is an extended and intensified version of what we find in the book of Lamentations. The language is equally graphic.
The phrase, “He has broken my teeth with gravel” has always stuck with me. I can picture an aggressor pushing an innocent man’s face into the gravel, smashing him into the ground until all that is left are bloody gums. Not the image we like to think of in church. What is worse is who is responsible. The “he” in that phrase has a specific identity. It is the same “he” that is described as causing all sorts of pain throughout the chapter. The he is God. How could God be responsible?
God had given his people warning after warning, chance after chance. The prophets came and told the people to return to obedience, to trust in God, to care for the needy. No matter what, the people wouldn’t turn from their wicked ways. Finally God sent prophets, including Isaiah and Jeremiah, telling them that destruction was coming. The destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple, was God’s discipline toward his people. Yes it was the Babylonians who physically did it, and they would be punished for their abuses, but God willed that it would happen.
It all seems overwhelming and could be quite depressing. Then we hear these words: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” It is almost like in the midst of despair that a vague memory came to mind. Like a dim candle in a large dark room. We are left hanging on those words. What is it that come to mind?
What he remembers is the Lord’s great love. What kind of love is this? Unlike English, other languages have multiple words for love. There is a word that would be used for a love felt between two people. This is not that word. This word is hesed. It is not the emotion of love. Other ways to translate it include kindness, mercy and covenantal faithfulness. The emphasis is on the activity rather than the feeling of love.
The author has hope not because of a belief that God feels a vague sense of love toward his people. Rather, he has hope because of God’s great love that is demonstrated in action. Less than a century later, the Babylonian empire would lie in ruin, the walls of Jerusalem would be rebuilt and a new temple would stand on the mount. There is hope in God’s great love. This has been made even clearer to us in the coming of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 explains the coming of Jesus in the context of “For God so loved the world.” Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate example of love in action. It is also the perfect act of compassion by God, as through the incarnation, God experienced human suffering, he suffered with us. That is love.
So God loves us. That is nice but so what? How does that affect us? Should are only reaction to this morning be to walk out and think that was an interesting lecture on God’s love?
I remember the first time that I had a real sense of God’s love. I won’t go into the details other than to say that I was suffering under the consequences of my own stupidity. In the midst of that, God reached down in response to a weak prayer by this undeserving wretch. I was happy about the answer to prayer but I was also shaken. Realizing that God had mercy on me, I couldn’t continue business as usual. It was not something to simply tuck into a memory book, What should our reaction be?
There are two ways for us to respond. One is to be thankful. Much of our worship should emerge not out of duty but out of thankfulness. The Psalms often look back to the actions of God in the past. Our hymns and songs look to what Jesus did on the cross and what he has done in our lives. Probably one of the most frustrating experiences is when people are ungrateful. Have you experienced that? Can we turn around and be ungrateful toward God after all he has done for us? Live a life of gratitude. Not only is a proper response, it is also the most emotionally healthy way to live.
But our response shouldn’t just be toward God. We should take the love that we have received and share it with others. we can’t control who we feel love toward. Thankfully, it is not feelings we need to share. It is love in the sense of kindness. Love in action. Helping people in practical ways. You have perhaps heard of Hasidic Jews, that comes from that same word hesed. What if there was something called Hasidic Christians, who were known for showing hesed or loving kindness to all? One of my favourite verses is Micah 6:8. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That word mercy is the same as the great love in Lamentations. What we have received, we share with others.
Are you having trouble feeling God’s love? Imagine the writer of Lamentations. Imagine him looking at the smoking ruins of Jerusalem. Imagine him seeing the pile of rubble that was once the great temple. And yet he could remember God’s great love. God loves us. God loves you. He as demonstrated that most powerfully through Jesus Christ. No matter what else is going on, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead and he offers the benefits of that to all of us. That is loving kindness. Because of that, we can have hope, no matter what is happening. God’s great love is present and real no matter what the situation is. Great is his faithfulness!