28 Mar 2023

Guilt, Compassion, Grace: Lamentations, Chapter 1

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Holding On, Lamentations, Ministry, Suffering
The wonderful book of How is read during Tisha B’Av

(I wrote this as a Facebook meditation a while back).

The Bible is filled with gifts from God’s Spirit to us, if we but avail ourselves to them. Sadly, many of the gems of grace are unfamiliar to many modern disciples of Jesus. But the Hebrew Scriptures especially are designed to equip us in the ways of salvation according to Paul (“ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation,” 2 Timothy 3.15-17, TEV).

One of those jewels of the Spirit is the book known as How in the Bible. I think it is especially relevant to our tumultuous world today. What a world of chaos, confusion, pain and suffering we live in. Nations against nations. Humans against humans. The lack of compassion is at almost epic proportions.

Fortunately as we read through our Bible’s together, we encounter these diamonds in the rough that we ignore much of the year. Today we read How (known as Lamentations in our English Bibles) chapters 1 through 3 today. It is gives voice to the tears of the world and is mysteriously cathartic.

Lamentations 1 recognizes the horrific suffering in the wake the destruction of Jerusalem is because of sin. The “Lord is in the right” 1.18 states point blank.

But. And there is a But.

Self-inflicted or not, the biblical text makes it clear that someone should have been there to cry with, listen with, walk with, share in the pain of the suffering ones. Guilt does not erase compassion. Just the opposite.

Chapter 1 begins with the the voice of “someone” reporting on the events, sort of like a reporter or narrator. The narrator, reporter, is dismayed by the desolation of it all. But the voice of the narrator is appalled at the isolation of the sufferer. It is unconscionable there is no one to comfort in the midst of this scene of woe. This perspective dominates chapter one. Six times (6x) this is mentioned.

Her cheek wet with tears.
There is none to comfort her
” (1.2)

With none to help her.” (1.7)

With none to comfort her” (1.9)

Far from me is any comforter” (1.16)

No one to comfort her” (1.17)

There was none to comfort me” (1.21)

Somehow, it seems to me, that some believers think that to comfort, or to recognize genuine suffering with compassion, excuses whatever the behavior was. So they simply do not. Instead the person’s guilt is reinforced as justification for withdrawing from the human being in need.

I’ve heard it all. They shouldn’t have done drugs. They shouldn’t have been gay. They shouldn’t have been cheating. They shouldn’t have done [whatever], etc.

That is not the Holy Spirit’s approach in Lamentations.

The Holy Spirit knew full well the reasons for the suffering we give (often close to excuses for our inaction). But the Spirit inspired the narrator to lament the absence of compassion and the lack of a comforter for the person(s), even the guilty. It is as if the Spirit is saying, “it is God’s place to judge, it is our place to share, have fellowship, in the pain that is felt … and give it back to God.” We are a fellowship of the suffering.

How, Lamentations, is needed in our contemporary church.

One Response to “Guilt, Compassion, Grace: Lamentations, Chapter 1”

  1. Robert Limb Says:

    I am just finishing up 40 days of studies in ‘Ecah’. I was glad to find several recent books on Lamentations alone, not just tagged on the end of Jeremiah. However there is almost nothing available in French. So this is timely for me, thanks for posting. I will look forward to reading the following chapters.

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