I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath. He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely against me He has turned His hand repeatedly all the day. He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away, He has broken my bones.
– Lamentations 3:1-4
Suffering and affliction is one of the experiences of life that so exposes our vulnerabilities and weaknesses to such an extent that it is no wonder that we deal with societal issues like euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide. I don’t agree with those choices but I understand that when afflictions become overwhelming why people believe this is the best direction to take.
If we listen to Jeremiah (whom we believe to be the author of Lamentations) we see a person in deep distress. Suffering and affliction – it literally has the idea to grieve:—afflict, cause grief, grieve, sorrowful, vex. The book title, Lamentations, means to cry aloud. In Jeremiah’s context he knows that God has brought severe affliction upon Israel in the form of the nation of Babylon who has decimated their cities and taken captive their people. The reason for such affliction is because Israel has disobeyed God and have repeatedly sinned in horrific fashion.
Jeremiah’s distress was profoundly overwhelming. Jeremiah 3:1-18 was a deep cry of despair and hopelessness with no relief in sight. It was deeply emotional and these are the deep groaning’s of anguish. His declarations are mostly geared to what he understands God has done – which was simply that He had brought all this calamity and suffering as a consequence of their sin. There was a distinct reality that some affliction and suffering was an act of God’s extreme discipline in the life of His people because of their unfaithfulness. This was not always why people suffered but it was one reason they did.
In our experience we all go through affliction and many times we deal with it but there are times that some suffering is very overwhelming. Things like trials, conflicts and difficulties are challenges that we bear up under and learn to deal with the inconvenience. Then there are experiences like cancer, health issues, termination at the work place, the break-up of a relationship that are far more overwhelming than we know how to deal with it. But in the midst of this Jeremiah learns a lesson:
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S loving kindnesses 1indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness – Lam. 3:21-23
God has always demonstrated that He will be faithful to His Holy Name and to vindicate His own righteousness. In part, that was what happened with Israel – God defended and vindicated His own righteousness even especially since His people were not living by it. But God was also faithful to His people, as a whole. Individuals died in this destruction carried out by Babylon. Is that unfair? God constantly cried out to His people, called to them through His prophets and gave them numerous opportunities to repent and be restored.
Not all suffering is because of sin, but sometimes God uses real life situations to discipline His children. While most of our discussions are about others who suffer our speculations run rampant to figure out if their distress is God induced or simply circumstantial. The only one who knows for sure is God because apparently the people of Israel could not figure out their own hard heartedness. Affliction that is sourced in Gods’ righteousness is nothing to ignore but we have to remember that God always provides a way to avoid His extreme discipline if we are willing to repent and seek His face.
Pastor Brad Little