Day 23 Lamentations 3:1-40 ... In Shock

"I am the man who has seen affliction..." begins this chapter, and that doleful sentence captures the mood of this entire book. Judah's king is now shackled and blinded, his princes slaughtered. Jerusalem - the capital city, the holy city - is no more. The poet writes in a state of dazed grief. He wanders the empty streets, piled high with corpses, and tries to make sense of tragedy that defies all comprehension.

In some ways , Lamentations reads like a modern book, for our own century has seen many books "lamentating" great tragedies: Jewish memoirs from the Holocaust, Solzhenitsyn's recounting of the Gulag, eyewitness reports from Dresden, and Hiroshima, and more recently, from Ethiopia and Cambodia. The horror in those accounts echoes the horror described in Lamentations.

But beyond the human tragedy, a different kind of distress gnawed at the author. Babylonian soldiers had entered the temple - pagans in the Most Holy Place! - looted it then burned it to the ground. The dream of the covenant died on that day. Historians record that as the Babylonians entered the temple they swept the empty air with their spears, seeking the unseen Jewish God. But they found nothing. God had given up; he had fled the premises. Jews still mourn the event; Each year on the anniversary of the day the temple was destroyed, the Orthodox read the book of Lamentations aloud.

The tone of this anonymous book may sound familiar, for the prophet Jeremiah is the likely author. He is an old man, with shriveled skin and broken bones. He has been hunted, jailed, tortured, thrown in a pit and left for dead. Yet nothing can match the grief as he now stares, not at his own wounds, but at the gaping wounds of Jerusalem.

God is an enemy, the prophet concludes, in an outburst familiar to any reader of Jeremiah. He lets his venom spill out. And yet, in the middle of this dark chapter, the author remembers what he once learn about God in brighter, happier times. He recalls the goodness of God, the love, the compassion. In the midst of this bleak book comes words that a writer later crafted into a hymn: "Great is Thy Faithfulness." At the moment of terrible tragedy, those qualities of God may seem very far away - but where else can we turn? As Lamentations shows, without God's hope, there is no hope.

Point to Ponder: In your darkest times, do your thoughts turn to God? What helps you find relief?