What Do You Do When Your Suffering Is Your Fault?

You have dealt with me because of all my transgressions; for my groans are many, and my heart is faint.

Lamentations 1:22

Suffering that is nobody’s fault may be hard to accept. Perhaps more difficult, though, are painful situations that we bring upon ourselves. When we realize what we’ve done, repent, and confess our foolishness to God, we may be tempted to wonder if he has really forgiven us. If God has forgiven me, why am I still suffering the consequences?

But God loves us enough to let us reap what we sow in order that we may humble ourselves and receive more abundant grace (see James 4:6). In times of regret, it’s important to remember that the Lord’s mercy abounds and his grace is greater than all our sin. This is one big lesson we can glean from Lamentations 1:22 and its surroundings.

Jeremiah wrote Lamentations after Jerusalem was destroyed by God’s enemies. “Judah has gone into exile,” and “her pursuers have all overtaken her” (Lam. 1:3). The “roads . . . mourn” and “her priests” and “all her people groan” (vv. 4, 11). We may imagine the prophet looking over the wreckage as he remembers the glory of her former days. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (v. 1).

The cause of Jeremiah’s deepest sorrow, however, is his realization that Judah herself is to blame for what has happened: “Jerusalem sinned grievously” (1:8), and the Lord has afflicted her “for the multitude of her transgressions” (v. 5). God’s city is personified as a woman who testifies, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (v. 18) and then prays, “My heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. . . . You have dealt with me because of all my transgressions” (vv. 20, 22). Her deep-seated rebellion, pride, and stubbornness caused her ruin. Now all blame-shifting is gone. Her true brokenness over her sin leads to repentance.

Jeremiah shows that we can remember the mercy of God even when we are the cause of our pain. He chooses to “call to mind” the “steadfast love of the Lord,” which, in turn, enables him to say from the heart, “Therefore I have hope” (3:21–22). “The steadfast love of the Lord” is Sometimes translated “the Lord’s lovingkindnesses” (NASB), from the plural form of the Hebrew word chesed. In the Old Testament, it’s the closest equivalent to the New Testament concept of grace.

When Jeremiah refers to God’s “mercies,” he uses a word related to the Hebrew word for womb that communicates tender care and affection. Yahweh’s grace and tender care “never come to an end; they are new every morning” (3:22–23). Not “new” in the sense that they never existed before but “new” in the sense that they are refreshed each day. The same God who loved you yesterday loves you today. And when you got out of bed this morning, he stood ready to supply you with all the mercy you will need.

When we have brought trouble on ourselves, we may be tempted to get stuck in grief or grow bitter over the ways that sin has tricked us and stolen from us. But heartfelt repentance is more profitable than self-loathing. When God employs the effects of our sin to chasten us, it is because he wishes to restore us.

The prophet Hosea encapsulates this truth in his call to rebellious Israel: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up (Hos. 6:1). If we humble ourselves before God, saying, “This is my doing. God is chastening me. I am the one who brought this misery upon myself,” only then are we ready to receive his mercy.

Deep hope is born out of the depths of repentance. The humility that leads to repentance also leads to restoration. This, in turn, leads to newfound hope. “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lam. 3:24).

  • TALK TO YOURSELF. Do you live with regrets or painful consequences of your sin? If so, it’s appropriate to chronicle your pain and recount from where you have fallen. Just don’t dwell there. List ways in which you turned away from the Lord and describe how he used pain to bring you back. Then read Proverbs 16:16–19 and rewrite all the “better” sayings in your own words. For example, “How much better it is for me to acquire wisdom than gold” (v. 16).
  • TALK TO GOD. Personified as a grieving woman, the devastated city of Zion acknowledges, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (Lam. 1:18). Write a similar prayer that acknowledges how right it is for God to chasten you when you stray from him.
  • TALK TO OTHERS. Is someone you know suffering under the weight of the heartbreaking consequences of their own choices? Read Galatians 6:1–5, and prayerfully consider how you might minister grace to them in gentleness and humility. Perhaps consider sharing the gist of this day’s reading to encourage them. If the Spirit leads you to have this restorative ministry in their life, be sure to prayerfully evaluate your own life in the light of Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 7:1–5.

*This article is a chapter excerpt from Remade: Embracing Your Complete Identity in Christ

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