March 11, 2020
4 He bends his bow against his people,
as though he were their enemy.
His strength is used against them
to kill their finest youth.
His fury is poured out like fire
on beautiful Jerusalem.
5 Yes, the Lord has vanquished Israel
like an enemy.
He has destroyed her palaces
and demolished her fortresses.
He has brought unending sorrow and tears
upon beautiful Jerusalem.
In verses 4 and 5 of Lamentations 2, the author of Lamentations lays out a puzzling analogy. God’s actions are described as those of an enemy. He’s shooting arrows, destroying palaces, and killing young people. Just like on Monday, where the description of an angry God is disconcerting, God’s description as an enemy is difficult to reconcile. However, it’s important to note that God is not described as being an enemy of his people, but instead as acting like an enemy would act. That distinction is confusing. You’ve probably heard that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. But here God is explicitly not an enemy, even though he is acting like one. What do we do with that?
Suffering is confusing. Pain is perplexing. Sometimes it’s easy to see the connection between our poor choices and the resulting pain. But often suffering doesn’t have a clear cause. Illness, losing a job, the end of a relationship—sometimes those things just happen. In those events, we can be tempted to find or create a connection, however thin the thread. It eases our confusion to identify a cause and effect relationship, even if it means manufacturing one. We might decide we are being punished for an unrelated sin. We might decide it’s all a test God wants us to pass. We might decide that praying or reading our bible more would have kept disaster at bay. All of these constructs have at their root the same tension. It’s the same conflict this section of Lamentations offers up. How do we reconcile suffering with the character of God? Why is a good God acting like an enemy? Theologians and philosophers have tried in numerous ways to bridge these two ideas.
Today, I’m going to recommend a bridge between God’s goodness and our suffering that is not logical. Just sit with God in your confusion. Sit with God in your sadness. Pray prayers of expression, not analysis. Allow your proximity to God to begin the slow work of transformation. Ask questions like: Why should I keep trying to love the unlovely? Why should I give with no expectation of return? Why should I hope when all seems lost? Why do the innocent suffer? The answers (or lack of answers) to these questions don’t bring the end of confusion we expected. They don’t create a logical framework where everything can neatly hang in its place. Instead, in the end we find confusion understandable and even appropriate. We can catch a glimpse of something bigger—something just beyond our comprehension. It speaks to faith in the yet unseen. In acknowledging our confusion, we are also able to acknowledge our trust in a God who loves, despite doing things that we don’t understand. Today, pick one problem that you can’t seem to find a solution for. In your prayer, don’t talk to God about solutions. Instead, express how miserable and muddled you feel. Take as long as you need—God won’t mind. End by simply declaring that, despite how you feel, you are choosing to trust.