Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking why Christians should ruminate about sorrow and grief instead of focusing on happy thoughts, reminds us that death and suffering are staple features of the human condition and that we need to learn how to handle grief and loss, thereby becoming a witness for those who do not yet know the truth. Isaiah 57:1-2 teaches that God often uses death to rescue the righteous from more horrendous calamity later on. God orchestrated the suffering of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, described as a Man acquainted with sorrow, in order that He become a competent Priest and Intercessor, a position God is planning for us as well. Much of the grief Jesus suffered sprung from peoples' lack of faith. In the third chapter of Lamentations, the narrator finally convinces Lady Jerusalem that her own sins have caused her affliction. God has punished her, much as a shepherd uses his rod to correct a recalcitrant lamb. God administers both mercy and justice according to the behavior of Israel and Judah toward their covenant promises. Likewise, we must (1) wait patiently for God, seeking Him through prayer and study, (2) maintain hope in His goodness, eschewing grumbling, (3) be willing to accept hardship and testing, (4) meditate on the reasons God has allowed this trial to come upon us, (5) be humble and submit to God, and (6) be willing to take abuse submissively because we probably deserve it. When God punishes, He acts in response to our rebellion. Unlike us, He does not prolong punishment unnecessarily.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his excursion through the Book of Lamentations, observes that the expressions of sorrow in the Psalms far outnumber expressions of praise, indicating that the Hebrew culture has almost made the lamentation an art form. An organizational pattern useful in the examination of these lamentations is Elisabeth Kubler Ross's grief-model, positing five stages of grief: 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) anger, 3.) bargaining, 4.) depression, and finally 5.) acceptance. These five stages of grief processing seem to be universal, even though outward manifestations may vary from person to person. In Lady Jerusalem's case, isolation, anger and blaming, and inconsolable depression seems to dominate in the first two chapters of Lamentations. She is a long way from acknowledging her own fault, a confession which would lead to the peaceful acceptance of her lot. To this point, she has not even expressed a credible Mea Culpa. In chapter 2, the priests and prophets come under intense scrutiny for relying on their own feelings rather than God's counsel, proclaiming lies rather than truth. The narrator also chastens the people for enabling the false ministers by insisting on their comfort zone, believing they were God's people because they had Solomon's temple in their midst, while at the same time they tacitly accepted the 'pleasures' of sin. In chapter 2, Lady Jerusalem, wallowing in ocean currents of grief, still points an accusing finger at God.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that these laments contain little that is jovial or uplifting, but instead are saturated in despair, sorrow, mourning, and even recrimination against God on the part of a personified Jerusalem, whom God depicts as a grieving widow, blaming others for her troubles while overlooking her own sins as the real cause of her sorrows. Solomon instructs us that the house of mourning contains more insight and serves as a better cathartic than the house of mirth. The reality of death imparts to us a sense of sobriety and wisdom about how to conduct our lives. We need to take the time to think about somber things and how they relate to the purpose of life. Godly sorrow, as opposed to worldly sorrow, leads to repentance, cleansing, change, and salvation. The proper effect of the Book of Lamentations is to motivate us to change. When we realize that God's punishment of Jerusalem was justified, we can apply the same godly standards to ourselves to determine if we are as culpable as ancient Judah. In Lamentations, following the Narrator's dire description of Judah's demise, Lady Jerusalem, in a self-centered protest, blames everybody (including her lovers and God Almighty) but herself. Even though God has left her there to think about the consequences of her sins, she does not properly introspect, but, rather, blames others, excusing herself. As God's called-out ones, we must carefully compare our own self-deceptions with her self-deceptions, lest we suffer the same fate. Like ancient Judah, if we embrace sin, God will craft a yoke made of our transgressions, bringing unfathomable burden and grief.
Martin Collins points out that the graphic imagery of a turbulent sea appearing in Isaiah 57:19-20 describes the troubled minds experienced by those who reject God's laws. God's called-out ones must earnestly strive for peace, realizing that Satan has countless ways to trouble people. It is impossible to grow spiritually in a climate of animosity and jealousy. If we use the power of God's Holy Spirit, peace will naturally accrue as one of the fruits. If we have offended a brother in Christ (or anyone for that manner), we should: (1) admit any mistake in attitude or action, (2) not make excuses for our behavior, (3) acknowledge the hurt we have caused, expressing genuine sorrow, (4) accept consequences, as well as make restitution, (5) overcome our negative behavior by changing our attitude and actions, (6) face up to the offended person, and (7) ask for forgiveness. Similar formulas appear in this message for rebuilding relationships with God and spouse. Another formula for putting an end of contention consists of: (1) praying for humility and wisdom in handling conflict, (2) putting ourselves in the other person's shoes, (3) anticipating likely reactions in order to plan responses, (4) choosing the right time and place, (5) talking face to face if possible, (6) assuming the best about the other, (7) speaking only to build others up, (8) asking for feedback from the other person, and (9) recognizing our own limits, realizing God alone can change a person's mind. We should exercise the same kind of forgiveness and reconciliation to others that Christ has shown us.
Austin Del Castillo, affirming that correction is something that children and adults find odious, points out that paradoxically the friend who offers constructive correction helps us mature and grow more than a 'friend' who ignores our faults. The very reason we are called into God's Church is so he can mold us into members of His family. It should be a given in our thinking that we must be corrected for much of our walk in this life with our Maker. The Lord loves whom he chastens. Yielding to the correction we receive from Scripture, the ministry and our brethren brings a wholesome sense of humility, needed to learn and overcome. If we harden our hearts to protect ourselves from hurt, as the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkle song "I am a Rock, I am an Island," we render ourselves impervious to feeling compassion and to the ability to mature psychologically and spiritually, cutting ourselves off from the very ebb and flow of life, turning us into craven cowards, candidate for the Lake of Fire. We must cry out to God to soften our petrifying hearts, realizing that the antidote to the fear of repentance caused by pride is godly humility and the willingness to be set on the right spiritual course. The only rock we should cling to is Jesus Christ.
Do we tend to shirk responsibility by 'passing the buck'? David Maas explores why we do this and proposes a solution for shouldering our responsibilities—and growing in character.
Another impediment to overcoming our sins is self-justification. We tend to excuse ourselves for what we do, and this only makes it harder to become like God. He is more interested in our transformation than in how good we feel about ourselves!
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the trials of Joseph are a clear exposition of the principle of Romans 8:28 that "all things work together for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Even allowing for mankind's free moral agency, propensity to sin, stumbling, and getting into difficulties, God continues to work out His purpose (making lemons into lemonade) even when people do not know it is for their good (Genesis 50:20). The key to Joseph's greatness is that he allowed his affliction and hardship to humble him, giving him a Christ-like character.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the special sacrificial extravagance of Mary, having expended a half-year's wages for perfume to anoint Jesus' feet, demonstrating extraordinary godly love and devotion, indicating that there are some areas of life where extravagance and waste are not even relevant. Judas, a man of talent and skill for fiscal management, but whose mind had become defiled through temptation, could not relate to or comprehend this sublime expression of love. The totally selfless sacrifice of Mary paralleled or prefigured the sacrifice Christ was later to make, giving His precious life for mankind. The key to the real abundant life and glorification is to follow our Elder Brother's example of forcing His will into submission to the Father's will, even to the point of death. We must guard against the precarious blinders of tradition and self-interest — blinders that prevented Judas, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the multitudes from comprehending or following the truth. Instead, we are admonished to walk in the light while we have the light, being willing to sacrifice ego and self-interest, unconditionally yielding to the Father's will in order that we may also become glorified members of the God family.
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