Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is God bad?

(First sharing in school today!)

Our text today is found in Lamentations chapter 3. Lamentations is a collection of poems that describes the pain suffered by the Jews. As a collection of poems, it is written in stereotypical language of grief and have been used as liturgy regarding suffering. Traditionally, it is thought that lamentations was written by Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC.  This was a period of great suffering. 2 Kings 25 as well as 2 Chronicles 36 describes this fall. Where the sons of king of Zedekiah was killed in front of the king before the king was captured and brought back to Babylon. There was fire set to the temple, royal palace and as well as to all the important houses of Jerusalem. Besides stately buildings, the bronze pillars in the temple of God was broken apart with treasures from the temple taken away. People were taken captive. What was left in Jerusalem was the poorest people to work the vineyards and the farms.

Lamentations employs the use of different voices, traditionally understood as a medium through which expression is given to his world. In the verses that we are looking at, the voice of the strong or valiant man is employed. What is expressed is the suffering of this man. There are many suggestions regarding who this man was. This ranges from Jeremiah, the presupposed author, A king, a suffering soldier or a literary ‘everyman’. What is important is how this man speaks as a representative of populace at large. The words of suffering he uses is reminiscent of the language of suffering used in other parts of the Old Testament. It is not a logical flow of what the man is going through, but rather a snapshot of this suffering and pain the man is going through, a collage of horror if you would.

So, linking this to our theme of the day. Is God bad that one has to suffer? Focusing on the text, the man does not ask God why he is suffering, but rather he is lamenting the extent of his suffering. In the same way, the question today is limited to the depth of suffering. The why of suffering cannot be answered just by looking at this text and it is therefore a meditation for another day. Today, I want to focus on the question “Is God bad that he causes his people to suffer so much?” I do this first by making 3 main observations of the text

-        In the writing, it is assumed that I and He are clearly in a relationship. This is a covenantal relationship.  God chose them to be his people. He had chosen them to walk in his ways in the sight of the nations, brought them to the promised land, chosen Jerusalem as the city where the ark of the covenant should rest and his temple be built. There is a story involved. The people know God and their story. Chapter 3 is part of a bigger story of the people of God and God himself.

-       In the first 17 verses, there is a certain pattern that talks about I and he. “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath” “He has driven me away”. There is a clear relationship between the “I” and “he”. On first instance, He seems bad as he caused the pain, piercing “my” heart”, “filling my heart”. On the other hand, the fact that there are 17 verses of accusation of this “he” without a defense of who he is is a validation of this suffering.  There is space for the I to speak without He defending his action. “I” is allowed to be honest in the pain, denying the easy resolution. There is a space for pain and suffering in our being.

-        Many have mentioned that this is the turning point of remembering God, which culminates in the verses of that talks about the Lord’s great love. In the first 17 verses, “he” was faceless. It was only in verse 18 that He was mentioned as “the Lord”, “Yahweh”. In bringing up the Lord, Yahweh, there was the possibility of remembering the character of Yahweh, which “I” later mentioned to be loving with mercies that re new every morning’.

God allows pain in the story. But there is a wider context to this pain. Remembering who God is in my story instantly makes it clear to me that God is not bad. But why does this truth elude me so often? Do I allow space for suffering in my story? Or do I get angry when I suffer? Do I remember who He is in my suffering? The story that I have had with him thus far and his character in my suffering?

One main addition to the story of God that I have that the people did not have during Lamentations was Jesus. Jesus continues to be the theme this week. May the reality of Christ become clearer for you in your reality.