Devotion by Carrie Black
We’ve had less than three weeks of school and already this semester I have seen the pain and hurt that sin brings, both sins we commit and the sin that infiltrates simply being in the world. Injuries, break ups, overwhelming thoughts, missing family members, an abundance of homework, the death of one we love, the pondering of big, tough questions, packed schedules, fading friendships - all these I have seen, both in the lives of my friends and classmates around me and in my own life too. All this and more, in just the span of three weeks. It leaves my heart heavy to consider all the heavy hearts on our campus. All these people, walking with their heads down - what are we to make of all this?
As Scripture goes, what we experience and feel does not go unexperienced and unfelt by others. Sifting through the Psalms, specifically, we can see the agony and anguish that comes as a result of sin - both known sin and the results of the presence of sin in the world. Psalm 42 and 43 are just a few that tap into this state of pain and hurt:
Here we read, in vivid imagery and stark emotion, the agony being experienced and expressed by the Psalmist: he is panting for God; he desires to be with God; he feeds on his tears; he faces persecution and ridicule from others for his spiritual state; he feels forgotten by God and oppressed by his enemy. What is this thirst, this oppression, this agony being expressed?
This is sin.
And it is in the midst of sin and suffering that the Psalmist denotes his soul as downcast. Like us, he walks with his head down.
Our theme verses for this 2019-2020 academic school year are Lamentations 3:22-23. In context, it reads:
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 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.”
Compare this to Psalm 42 and 43. Within the context of the whole book of Lamentations, we read, again, a state of agony: there is no comfort (1:2, 16), there is starvation (1:11), there is betrayal (1:19) and destruction (2:6-9), and so on and so on. In the passage above, Jeremiah takes all the anguish and suffering and hurt within him, rearranges it, and expresses it: “my soul is downcast within me.”
The two Psalms we have considered are regarded as one when it comes to interpretation, and there is a reason for this. The structure of these Psalms is purposeful, comprised of a lament, a refrain of hope, lament, refrain of hope, lament, refrain of hope. Similarly, there is a unique structure to the book of Lamentations. The book contains 5 chapters, each of which contain 22 verses, except chapter 3 which holds 66 verses, and it is pretty much right in the middle of this middle chapter of Lamentations that comes Jeremiah’s own refrain of hope.
It is in the midst of testing and temptation, of agony and anguish, of trial and tribulation, the Psalmist and Jeremiah, and numerous others in Scripture, fix their eyes on hope. From this fixation, Jeremiah lifts his downcast soul toward the sunrise and the Psalmist raises his chin and goes forth in praise. The Psalmist and Jeremiah are fixing their eyes on the hope of God’s promise that He would send a savior to redeem their suffering. But then where, we must ask, do we fix our eyes? What is our hope today?
This is our hope: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It’s counterintuitive, it’s a great paradox, because “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” sounds more like the agony and anguish these two authors have expressed; it sounds like the pain and hurt we know all too well. These words, spoken by Jesus on the cross, are a reiteration of the Psalmist’s exclamation, “When can I go and meet with God?” because here the forsaken Son is crying out in his separation from God. This heart-wrenching question from Jesus sounds like agony and anguish, but it is here, on the cross, where our hope is found.
The Psalmist and Jeremiah fixed their eyes on the hope of God’s promise that he would send a savior; we fix our eyes on the cross, where Jesus took on every test we face, every temptation we encounter, every agonizing event, every anguish we feel, every trial we meet, and every tribulation we endure, and we fix our eyes on the empty tomb, because it is there that we see God’s new promise: that Jesus will come again and He will bring us to himself. And though we may earnestly pray for deliverance and relief in our present context, we have felt and know we will continue to feel the agony and anguish sin sneaks into the cracks and corners of our lives. And Jesus does not tell us he will keep trials from us; in fact, he says the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). But, he continues, beckoning us to take heart! For upon the cross he has overcome the world. Because Jesus bowed his head on the cross, when our souls are downcast within us, we may ever lift our eyes, see the sunrise, call this hope to mind, and go forth in praise: “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.”
Amen and amen.
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