Monday, August 23, 2010

Hope in Extremity?

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23.

The scale of earth’s tragedies is difficult to comprehend. It is only the snapshots on television that expose the individual suffering in the Pakistan floods, the Haitian earthquake, and other recurring catastrophes. They provide a glimpse of the devastation that millions of earth’s inhabitants endure.

So many lose everything of meaning, home, land, and often members of their loved ones killed in the disaster. Left with no means of sustenance, many more face death from starvation, exposure, and sickness, unless aid comes quickly. The initial calamity is only the beginning of a mounting struggle for survival.

While natural disasters are tragedy enough, it is unconscionable that millions more are forced into grim poverty and death due to rebellion and terror. Places like Dafur and Congo are household names due to the infamy of political or military perpetrators, or greed of the powerful.

In Jeremiah’s time, Judah and Jerusalem were in a similar predicament. The Babylonians had overrun and devastated the land, burnt the city and exiled the leadership of the land. Peasants were left to forage for food. Lamentations is Jeremiah’s record of the degradation and misery that remained.

Young and old were fainting and dying in the streets from hunger, bodies left unburied, and mothers ate their babies to stay alive. There was no aid from neighbouring countries. Few knew about it, and those who knew didn’t care, or even rejoiced in Judah’s suffering.

Today’s text is remarkable because Jeremiah wrote it during this calamity. Despite all this devastation and apparent hopelessness, he was convinced of God’s ongoing compassion for his people. He had no visible evidence to support this claim; he could only find it in the unseen reality of God’s faithfulness.

I doubt those of us in the relatively secure west will face such extremity, but most of us will face personal difficulties that seem just as intractable. I have to ask myself, would I respond with such assurance of God’s care? A verse later, Jeremiah responds to the question: The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

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