[This is the first of four posts encouraging you to study the Old Testament book of Lamentations.]
In truth, all suffering can be traced back to the entrance of sin into our world; that is, before sin entered the world there was no suffering. However, this does not mean that all personal suffering is the result of personal sin (John 9:3). But let’s face it. If we are going to be faithful ministers of grace and truth to one another, we have to deal with the reality of sin head-on. At times, we will be faced with the task of comforting the sufferer. At other times, we will be the sufferer. In fact, the believer’s greatest pain comes in dealing with the consequences of unfaithfulness and sin—whether one’s own or someone else’s. When we find ourselves here––and we will––Lamentations is our handbook. In this biblical record, we are exhorted to place our hope fully in the faithful mercy and loyal love of a gracious God, to praise and take refuge in God, no matter the suffering. He alone is sovereign and rules forever. His mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness is unfathomably great. No other book of the Bible, except Job, so unabashedly addresses the issue of suffering.
We might humbly summarize God’s great design in including this magnificent book in His Scriptures with the following four statements of purpose (only the first purpose will be the subject of this post, three more will follow):
Reason #1 – Lamentations was given to reveal the horror, tragedy, pain, sorrow, and devastation that results from sin. (see entire book, but especially 1:5, 14, 18–19, 22; 2:14; 3:42; 4:13–16, 22a; 5:16–18)
Sin does not deliver on its promises. Rather, it brings only pain and misery with its rebellion. Sin’s pleasure is only for a moment. Moses knew this and therefore did not consider “the passing pleasures of sin” or the “treasures of Egypt” to be ultimately worthwhile (Hebrews 11:25–26). Sin delivers hardship, misery, and pain. James 1:14–15 records the gestation cycle of sin and its horrifying consequences: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” The book of Lamentations graphically pictures the deadly consequences of sin. As Charles Swindoll writes: “It [Lamentations] is a mute reminder that sin, in spite of all its allurement and excitement, carries with it heavy weights of sorrow, grief, misery, barrenness, and pain. It is the other side of the “eat, drink, and be merry coin.”
As heinous as some of the scenes poetically captured in Lamentations are, the eternal consequences of sin are indescribably worse. The wages of sin is eternal destruction, “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). It will be a place where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched—indeed, a place of eternal destruction (Mark 9:48; Revelation 20:10, 15). Lamentations is but an earthly picture of the consequences of sin; the reality of the eternal consequences is much worse. But the graphic and grotesque consequences of sin disclosed in the book of Lamentations only serve to highlight the wondrous truth revealed in Matthew 1:21, as the angel announced the arrival of Messiah to Joseph: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (see also 1 John 3:5). This is the hope of the gospel—the hope Jesus was sent to bring to sinners like us.
Have you or your small group ever studied the book of Lamentations? That’s one of the reasons Eric Kress and I co-authored The Discipline of Mercy: Seeking God in the Wake of Sin’s Misery, which includes a study guide and practical counseling homework.