In the 6th century BCE, the Babylonian Empire destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtering many, enslaving the rest, transporting most into exile. A horrified observer of the massacre wrote: How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become.
When my father died, my mother spent her days sitting in her easy chair. On the side table, stacks of their letters of fifty-three years of marriage. Words on tattered pages that she read and reread. Sometimes aloud. Most often, her lips, moving in silent speech. Each breath, a faint whisper of her past. Next to the letters, a framed picture of my father, smiling his half-smile, gazing at her. She would look back and smile. As Alzheimer’s disease, slowly, inexorably robbed her of memory, she would ask, again and again, “Who is this?” Enveloped in a cloud of her unknowing, it seemed that her amnesia was the anesthesia for her loneliness.
This image of my mother is my picture of desolate Jerusalem: How lonely, like a widow, is the city.
Save for the Book of Job and that handful of psalms known collectively as songs of desolation, no other word in the Bible cries out like Lamentations. We might wish not to hear. Yet life’s inescapable reality, that universal equalizer of suffering – for some, always, and, at some point, for all – calls us, commands us to listen.
Whether wrought under the increasingly darkening cloud of climate change and the indiscriminate, unbridled power of tempest, fire, or flood.
Or when nations wage war.
Or when individuals, with too-easily-obtained weapons, shoot-to-kill.
Or by ill-fated accident or illness.
Or by conditions – personal, existential or internal – that haunt and hamper our fullest living.
Or by our own hand whenever we, with unruly temperaments or unlicensed affections, abuse ourselves or others.
Engulfed by tsunami waves of suffering, is there anything, beyond weeping, that we can do? The one who wrote, “How lonely, like a widow, is the city”, answers emphatically, yes:
The thought of my affliction…is wormwood and gall!
My soul…is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind; therefore, I have hope:
God’s love and mercy never end.
They are new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.
How can this be? How can one who suffers be so confident?
How can it not be? For what value is a word of assurance spoken by one who hath not suffered? Job, in the pit of agony, proclaimed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, who, at the last, will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been destroyed, then, in my flesh, I shall see God.” So, Lamentations can say, “My soul is bowed down, yet I have hope, for God’s love and mercy never end.”
Dare we trust this word! But how? We could believe the integrity and sincerity of the speaker, but nothing else, nothing more. For anyone who suffers desires, demands release or, at least, relief. Yet this is a word of expectation of something to come rooted in the memory of a relationship, a history with an ever-loving, ever-merciful God.
But once God is added to the equation of life and suffering, theodicy shouts its nagging question: How can the evil of suffering of human or natural cause exist in a creation of an omnipotent, benevolent God? I recall that chant, which, during my years ago first crisis of faith, I claimed as my own: If God is God, all-powerful, then God, who allows evil, cannot be good; and if God is good, desiring the wellbeing of all, then God, who does not, cannot restrain evil, cannot be God.
After years of continuous wrestling with this, with God, today, this is where I stand. When I suffer and, in my compassion for you, when you hurt, I have hope. Sometimes, in the face of stubbornly changeless circumstance, I confess, my hope is small. Nevertheless, I have hope. Therefore, I do not hope in God. Rather my hope is God. For my capacity to look beyond what is to behold a vision of what might be is itself a sign of God’s presence and power. Because that is true, then whatever woe betides, visions of expectation always come. Therefore, I can sing:
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
© 2022 PRA
Illustration: The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, Jan Luyken (1649-1712)
 Job 19.25-26
 A paraphrase of the word of the character, Nickles, “If God is God, He is not good, If God is good, He is not God.” J.B.: A Play in Verse (1956), by Archibald MacLeish.
 Words (1923) by Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960)