I have been on a two-day journey through the book of Lamentations. I must say that I have read this book before, but I have never been as engaged and fascinated as I have this time. The message of Lamentations is simple: God’s prophet is mourning over the destruction and devastation of his own people caused by their own sin. After Jeremiah recounts all that he sees and has personally experienced, he begins to talk about a day of restoration. This restoration, however, is solely based on God’s character, His mercy and forgiveness. In a defense of God’s decision to judge Israel for their sin, Jeremiah offers these words:
“Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord (3:39-40; ESV).”
Jeremiah has preached against idolatry and against Israel’s sin of forgetting the Lord. But the people have not listened. They have rebelled and now are suffering through captivity, famine, and a lack of God’s presence (1:2, 1:11, 2:6-7). There is no Word from God (2:9), and the prophets have failed to address the sin of the nation (2:14). Again, all of this is because of God’s wrath against their sin and transgressions (1:5, 3:1).
Jeremiah simply says, “Why should someone complain about all that is happening to us? Let me tell you why. Because we deserve it! It is our sin that made this happen! We are the ones to blame, not God!”
Oh how we need to hear this. This is not only a message for our nation, but it is a message for God’s people, for believers individually and also for the church. We spend so much time complaining about the bad things we see happening in our lives, in our churches, and in our nation. But I wonder how many of us stop and think about why this is? Could it be that God is judging us for our sin? Could it be that we have strayed from God, who alone can heal us and save us?
As believers we are quick to point out that the things we endure are not necessarily a result of our sin, but the consequence of living in a “fallen world.” Rightfully we should hold to this truth, but never should we hide behind it. There are some things that do happen that are out of our control. Even Jeremiah acknowledges this in 3:37-38. God is in control and sometimes things do happen that are not connected to our actions directly. Jeremiah says there is no room for complaining when God gets angry about sin in our lives and in our churches. How about we stop blaming dying churches on a culture that cares nothing about church and start looking at ourselves. Maybe we should start looking at our sin as the reason God is not blessing our churches?
Think of the irony that we live out continually. It goes like this:
Believer: God I know that you alone are to be my object of worship and that I am not to have any other gods in my life, and that I am to love and adore you and give the same love to my neighbors. But I really enjoy my wealth, my health, my toys, my smart phone, and my comfort. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to relax a little and live in my freedom as a Christian.
Enter God: You have sinned. You have forsaken me. You have served other Gods and become friends of the world. Do you not know that becoming friends with the world makes you my enemy? (Thanks James.) Because you have sinned and not corrected your ways you will suffer and endure pain and sorrow.
The discipline of the Lord comes upon us.
Believer: God, why is this happening? I am no longer happy and comfortable. Where are you? My family is broken, my bank account is all dried up, and people no longer like me, or want to be around me because of my grief. God, when are you going to fix my life back to the way it was?
This is what we do. We sin against a holy God and then wonder why we don’t see his blessing in our lives. We wonder why our families, churches, and nation suffer. Jeremiah’s word for us is to the point. We must examine ourselves and probe our lives to get rid of the sin. We must return to the Lord. Let us not always presume that we are near God. Let us not think that we can continue in sin and dwell in safety. God loves us too much for that.