There is a song which I learnt so long ago that I can’t remember, which is a straight quote from the book of Lamentations – chapter 3 v 22&23. It is simple, and yet also profound.. a statement of faith in our awesome God. When I am enjoying times of peace in life, of personal ease from pain or trouble and my loved ones are happy, this song comes easily. But when I am in trouble, when all around is bewildering in the depth and complexity of despair and destruction it presents, these words remain a reassuring statement of faith.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”
These words were written by the prophet Jeremiah – not known for his frivolous approach to life, but rather as one who writhed in agony under the message he brought, and the pain he witnessed. Jeremiah saw dreadful things happening to the people of Israel and Judah, and he himself suffered in ways most of us will never know. Yet still he asserts the loving faithfulness of God. Did he know the words which the tormented soul of Job uttered after utter disaster had come upon him?- “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2, v10).
Were these men deluded? How can we assert the goodness of God in the face of pain, evil and darkness? The story of Job concludes with a stupendous encounter between the stubbornly faithful but despairing Job, and His great God, whom he refused to curse, yet struggled to praise in his pain. God never answers the questions which the poor man has poured out, but as if drawing back a curtain on the wonders of creation, challenges Job to think about how very very limited he is in relation to the limitless creator of the universe.
Time and again, I think believers find themselves here, utterly overwhelmed by the realities of our God in creation – its complexity, diversity, delicate balances and vast scale. We say with Job,” I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42, v3 & 4).
When I am in the darkness, I call to mind this picture, and remember that I am but dust, unable to comprehend God, or to see the truth as He can. I call to mind the cross, and remember that this great God did not remain remote from our suffering, but entered into it, more fully than I can ever understand, and that there our sorrows and griefs were laid upon him too. Jesus accepted pain and suffering from God, trusting that this was the right and only way to bring salvation, that even in this, God was faithful and his mercy would endure.
Let this example of trust in the steadfast love of the Lord be an encouragement in our own darkness, and as we pray for others in their distresses. And when we feel that we are walking again in pleasant places, we can sing the song with particular joy, knowing from experience that our God is faithful and reliable.