Hope in Our Hopelessness

What makes a man hopeless? What causes loss of joy? When we sink down or become useless, we feel bleak and hopeless.
We got a fair share of suffering in life’s reality. When we are suffering, there’s the struggle of holding on to hope; and when we lose our grip on hope, faith and joy fly away.
What should be our perspective in the midst of this reality and hopeless situations of our life?
Here’s a text that helps us  find hope in whatever situation. In Lamentations 3:21-24, we find The Composition and Cure for Hopelessness.
According to tradition, this Book was written by Jeremiah because there are a lot of verses and key phrases here similar to the events of his life. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. The author of this book recounts the horrible disaster that happened to Jerusalem and their nation in general. The writer journals the horrific events that happened in the city of Jerusalem as a consequence of the sins of His people. Jerusalem’s losses were terrible. He wrote about their sufferings, pains and feelings of hopelessness that God has abandoned and forgotten them.
We must also remember that not all sufferings on earth  are caused by sins however. The Bible makes it clear through the book of Job which was written for us to learn that sometimes even the blameless suffer because there is a higher purpose, a heavenly purpose that needs to be proven. It’s also a clear reality that suffering is an expected event even to those faithfully follow the Lord.
However, Lamentations is about suffering that was caused by man’s own disobedience.
It was named as such because the first word in the book is “How?” which is a Hebrew expression for lament. This contains a voluminous record of weeping. Some chapters begin with the word “How?”… In Chapter 1: “How lonely sits the City?” In Chapter 2: “How the Lord in his anger?… “In Chapter 4: “How the gold has grown dim?…”
This book relates to us that indeed life is filled with questions- hard questions that even Google cannot answer. Questions are a reality of our existence, and they rise to the surface when deep waves of sadness rage in us. The first set of questions is always “how?” “how did this happen? “how could this happen?” “why?” “why Lord?” “why me” “why us?” “why have I done this?” This Book does not deny pain. It does not redefine or downplay pain. It shows us the truth. The reality of what life is all about. That life is not all the time good and happy. Life has long and dragging periods of hard times, bad times.
Lamentations is the song during a tragic period in Israel’s kingdom. This can also be compared to the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian version and a much-recent event of a similiar horrible tragedy. The Khmer account includes the stories of the killing fields, the S-21 Slaughter house, trees where the babies were smashed- a very tragic history.
Lamentations is also a Book of failed expectations. This book shows us the reality of Pain: Women are being raped (5:11), Mothers are eating their own children, they boil them, and cook them, and they fight against each other because they want to eat other babies too (2:20; 4:10).
The nation of Israel was expecting that God will fulfill His promise to them through their father Abraham. They were expecting that God will keep His promise to them in the ancient days by giving them the Promised Land, by multiplying their children like the stars of sky and the sands of the sea. God blessed them and gave them prominent kings like David and Solomon, and blessed them with great wisdom and wealth; but years later, because of disobedience, blessings were turned into curses , and their nation were destroyed by the Babylonians, their people were slaughtered and imprisoned because of their sins.
Pain that comes to us because of our judgment, or pain that comes because of our disobedience is something that takes our hope and joy. In here, Christians must not only learn how to rejoice, but also how to weep… how to lament… Moreover, how to rejoice and find hope while weeping and sorrowing. Our text gives us reasons why we are hopeless, and how we should respond…  It shows us how we lose hope, and how we can gain hope…
So here are the Composition of and Cure for Hopelessness from Lamentations 3:21-24
In verse 21, notice that our text begins with “but this I call to mind…” The word “but” shows a contrast- a big contrast in the writer’s life. What are the verses before it?  Looking at  Chapter 3 verse1-18… we discover why the writer was hopeless…
What caused the writer’s Hopelessness? What ran in his mind? Notice that verse 18 ends with “my hope in the Lord perished..” This shows that the writer lost his hope and faith even in God Himself. When we fall into our dark sins, when we feel we are hopeless to change, when we look around us and it seems everything is falling apart, it’s good to reflect on the perspective of this writer… we might see ourself as someone who even questions God, who doubts God and distrust him.
In his hopelessness, we notice:
     1.) He Looks at Horrors (v.1 “wrath”) . In verse 1, he says “I am the man who has experienced God’s wrath…” “I am in darkness without light…”  He feels DARKNESS which is equivalent to facing the UNKNOWN, having FEARS and CONFUSION. He compared God to a bear (v.10) who is dangerous and wild; to an archer (v.12) who assassinates from afar without mercy and notice. “I cry out for help but He does not answer…” (v.8) He felt that no one listens to him and no one cares for him. He felt the reality of unanswered prayers. “God made my life crooked…” (v.9) He felt that his ways are going nowhere and no more smooth paths…
   2.) He Looks at His “Heavy chains…” (v.7) He feels the reality of his BURDENS. What are the writer’s burdens? What are our burdens? We have many forms. They can be Emotional burdens like bitterness, anger, resentment, fear?. They can be failed expectations. Those burdens can also be spiritual such as unsaved lovedones, unconquered lusts, desires that lead us to shame. Sins that we cannot defeat. It can also be financial burdens in the form of career failure. Or it can be a business that keeps falling apart, or financial health that never gets healthier. Or it could be finding yourself overwork but underpaid, or suffering from Economic injustice.
   2.) He Looks at His Heartaches – Hopelessness comes when he looked at  his surroundings, to the desolation and darkness around. “He has wasted my flesh away” (v.4) The writer felt the reality of WEARINESS, PAIN; “He has broken…” (v.4) He experienced DISABILITY and INCAPACITY. “I have become the laughingstock of peoples…” (v. 14) He felt inferiority as people mock him and despised him and questioned the reality of their Divine Protector.
   3.) He Looks at Himself “I am the man…” (v.1) “I am covered  with bitterness and tribulation” (v.5) “I have forgotten what happiness is…” (v.17) “My endurance has perished…” “I have become the laughingstock of people” (v.14) Self-absorption was a primary cause of his hopelessness… self-centeredness caused him to be hopeless.
Hopelessness makes us to look on ourselves as the center of the universe, and and cause to see the future as bleak and horrible. But how did the writer respond?  How did he found  solution to the inner turmoil he was in?
Starting from verses 1-21, we find…
  1. In beginning verses 1-17, the writer points out Who is behind his situation in the middle of his own chaos… He RECOGNIZES THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (v.1-17) in his situation. He does not blame other persons as the prime sources, He looks at God and acknowledges that God knows what we are going through. In this book nowhere can we find that the Babylonians were named. He knows God is sovereignly behind all that he is going through. He did not identify other causes of his agony, nor rename God’s transendence in His situation. He painfully submitted and acknowledged the Divine Hand behind his sufferings. The writer acknowledged that the bad things in his life are not the cruelty of God… but the Justice and Righteousness of God. He did not blame God’s injustice to His agonies, he admitted that he deserved what he is going through and that it is rightfully being given to him by the One who knows all things. In the book Job, Job knows that Someone knows what is happening to him… “He knoweth the way that I take, that when I am tried I shall come forth as gold.”
  2. In verse 18, the writer REALIZES HIS TRUE CONDITION (v.18). He is true to what he is going through- “I lost hope in God…” He did not hide the inner turmoil and doubts of his soul. He did not mind saving his face.  He was outspoken of his weaknesses, losses, grief. He did not went to denial. He uncovered his shame and guilt. He went open. His eyes were open to his dire and needy situation. We need to have the heart that says, “I am lost and sick and hopeless.” And not just once a year but all the time. This book does not deny doubts in the reality of pain, it does not neglect the reality of pain… it welcomes the reality of pain. It recognizes the reality of it. The writer became true to himself. He actualizes, verbalizes what’s on his mind… The writer identifies his situation. He wrestles against depression (v.17), burnout (v.18), hopelessness (v.20)… He also does not downplay or relabel pain just like some who will say “it’s just in the mind.”
  1. In verse 19, he REMEMBERS HIS “PAST DISORDERS AND WANDERINGS” (v.19) He reminds himself that he was once a lost sheep who have gone astray… He reminds himself that he was once lost… he was once wasteful… He did not forget that we are but dust and clay.
  1. In verse 20, he said, “my soul continually remembers it, and is bowed down within me.” The writer RESPONDS IN WORSHIP (v.20). It is a reality if we cannot truly worship God without understanding His Justice They say that Missions exist because worship does not. But here we see that Worship exists when Theology exists. Knowing and seeings God’s Wrath, God’s Justice will cause us to worship. Seeing His good judgment will cause us to bow to our knees in humility and adoration of the One who does all things right. We can never treasure God’s mercy and love IF we don’t understand God’s wrath and justice. We cannot truly worship IF we do not see Him on the Throne of Justice, the dispenser of what is Good and Evil. WE CAN NEVER SING AMAZING GRACE, IF WE NEVER SEE OURSELVES AS A WRETCHED and DEPRAVED ME. We cannot truly bow down if we never see ourselves as a wretched man of unclean lips who dwell with a people of unclean lips…
  2. In verses 21-23, he said “But this I call to mind… therefore I have hope.” He RECALLS GOD’S FAITHFULNESS AS THE SOURCE OF OUR HOPE (v.21)
    Here we can see 4 things that he recalls in order to gain hope in his life.

    1. Verse 22, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (v.22)Even the writer only sees destruction around him, he still believes that God’s love is steady and will never cease for them. Even though their city was destroyed, God was still there. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed….His compassions fail not… that we are not cut off.
      1. “Love” is His prime gift and covenant mercy to His people. It is love that causes Him to give compassion to his disobedience and undeserving people.
      2. “Covenantal”- that God is acting based on His covenant/ contract and not mere impulse. That God is just keeping His promise of disciplining them as well as preserving them.
      3. In the midst of our failing loyalty and unfaithfulness, God is still devoted for our good and welfare. In the midst of hopelessness, we got to have the faith that God’s love is steady and consistent for us.
    2. Verse 22, “His mercies never come to an end.” (v.22) In the midst of our broken life, there is the sure stability of His mercy.
      1. In the face of Judah’s unfaithfulness, and the “rod of His wrath…” (v.1), he still believes that God does not give them totally what they deserve.
      2. The certainty of God’s Mercy gives Hope. Recalling His mercy is an admission that our current situation are still far way better than what we deserve.
      3. Happiness is lost when we think we deserve better, when we are discontented with our situation as believers, whether good or bad, we lose happiness. We got to believe that all that we have in this life, even at our worst scenarios, are still expressions of God’s unending mercies.
    3. Verse 23. “They are new every morning…” (v.23)
      1. We trust, we fail, we give up.. but God is willing to begin again…
      2. We fail this day, tomorrow, there are new and fresh mercies after all our failures and unfaithfulness.
      3. The beauty of mercy is that God will stick with you until the end… He will never leave you nor forsake you as His people…
      4. It is constant no matter what happens.
    4. Verse 24, “Great is your faithfulness…” (v.24)
      1. The certainty of God’s Great Faithfulness gives HOPE.. even in the midst of His people’s sins, sufferings, in the midst of their leader’s failures. It gives HOPE. It is a HOPE THAT SURVIVES AND ENDURES. It cannot be taken away. We’ll never appreciate His faithfulness if we didn’t at first understand His Justice and our deserved punishments.
      2. This is the CLIMAX of the whole chapter, and also of the whole book. God’s Covenantal Faithfulness is celebrated even in the midst of our unfaithfulness and sinful will.
  3. In verse 24, he REMINDS HIMSELF OF HIS REAL INHERITANCE (v.24) when he said “the LORD is my portion…” (v.24). In my pains, sins and dark valleys, Christ is enough for me. In the midst of my successes and recognition, He is my only Reward and Joy. This phrase was taken from the words of God to Aaron and the Levites in Numbers 18:20 “The LORD said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites. In times of prosperity or poverty, health or hunger, the True Treasure is God Himself. Here the writer says that the Lord is my Greatest Treasure, the Lord is my Greatest Prize, the Lord is my Great Reward, our Satisfaction.
      1. The writer is saying that the LORD is my everything, and even though the Babylonians burned my possessions, stole everything away from me, take away all my treasures and money, still I have everything because Christ is everything for me. They burned my city? What have I lost? Nothing. Those are not the ultimate.
      2. Even I have nothing, if I have Christ, I have everything. The source of my satisfaction, my rewards, my joy is not something that can be taken away me.
      3. Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…”
In closing, the writer repeats it again “therefore I will hope in Him.”
     “…in Him”
 Yes I have sinned against the Lord, I have committed shame, Yes I am failing, Yes I am falling apart, Yes I am hopeless and depressed. Yes my city was destroyed, my heart is failing, my strength is failing,…Yes my hope is gone, my bones are broken….
          …. but His love never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end, they are new.. He will stick with me forever, He will never leave me nor forsake me..
We’ve got to believe. We’ve got to have faith because WITHOUT FAITH, THERE IS NO HOPE. FAITH IS THE MOTHER OF HOPE.

Image courtesy: http://antiquitas.hypotheses.org/category/evenements/ailleurs


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