I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” Lamentations 3:17-23:
Some say there are only two things that are certain in this world: Death and taxes. But may I submit to you that before death comes there is always suffering. And suffering comes to everyone. and that’s for certain.
The problem of suffering presents itself on two levels–national and personal. The Book of Lamentations deals with national suffering. It is made up of five laments mostly based on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. and its devastating effects on the lives of the Israelites. Though Jeremiah had prophesied an end to the Babylonian exile and had promised a restoration, the great sorrow that bore down on the hearts of the survivors of the Babylonian invasion prevented them from appreciating such promise. In a situation like that it would be very difficult indeed to take comfort even from the words of Scripture.
The Bible tells us that the people of Judah, both great and small, broke their covenant with God. And so God punished them by allowing the invading army of Nebuchadnezzar to ransack and pillage the entire country, burn Jerusalem to the ground and drive the entire population into exile. The problem with suffering because of national sin is this: Even the righteous suffer along with the rest of the people.
Take our own case here in the Philippines, not everyone engages in graft and corruption, but because of the crookedness of the political system we all suffer one way or another. Filipino national leaders have been robbing the national treasury for so long, the government has to keep borrowing money from foreign commercial banks just to stay afloat. One third of the national budget is spent on servicing our foreign loans. And to add insult to injury, the government is so inefficient it keeps on growing effectively costing the taxpayers more every year, therefore, more taxes need to be collected from the earnings of the already struggling Filipino workforce. Do you see an end to the increase of the value added tax rate? Do you see an end to the increase of the price of basic commodities? Do you see an end to the increase of the cost of electricity or LPG? Lawlessness is a national sin in our land. Nobody obeys traffic rules anymore. A great number of Filipinos plays the jueteng making multi-millionaires, if not billionaires, of gambling lords. Sales of illegal drugs is estimated to be in the billions of pesos. Prostitution generates a staggering amount of revenue. These monies when added to the ill-gotten wealth of corrupt and positioned politicians sustain a huge underground economy which feeds on itself and steadily attracts more participation from the legitimate labor force, thus undermining Filipino productivity and ingenuity. You could be a law-abiding, church-going, tax-paying, no-nonsense Filipino and you still suffer alongside the wicked.
Not all suffering comes trickling down from our national sin, but suffering that comes from our own sinful nature. Our pride, for example, can bring a lot of mental anguish. Sometimes we just can’t accept that others are better than us. Anger and anxiety can cause a lot of emotional distress. Filipino drivers for the most part do not practice road courtesy. Some are outright rude. They can drive you insane out there if you are not careful. Pride, anger, anxiety. And then there is lust, envy and jealousy. All these can cause a lot of frustration. And how about laziness. Laziness is the deadliest of them all. Laziness ushers in poverty. And then there is the kind of suffering that comes from bad economic decisions that we make in life. How many of you, after buying something, felt sorry that you did. We sin and make mistakes all the time. And when we do, we have to suffer the consequences. Suffering could be quite overwhelming, couldn’t it?
And suffering does not stop there. What about the suffering that accompanies aging? We get sick more often as we grow older. I am finding that out first hand. We can’t escape physical pain, can we? I suffer from back pain 24/7. Some of you might have recurring migraine headaches. I could go on and on. Life could be so depressing.
Well, if you are already depressed just by reading this, maybe now you can identify with the author of the Book of Lamentations even just a little? He says:
I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
First, suffering can come from our national sin trickling down on us individually. Second, it can come from inside of us; from within our own sinful human nature. Third, suffering comes as part of growing older. And we won’t even discuss the fourth kind – – suffering that comes with persecution for simply being Christians. We suffer physical pain, mental anguish and emotional distress all the time.
BUT, there is hope. We do not have to suffer like most people do. We can minimize our suffering. We can even eliminate many of them. Lets read on:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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.
Here is the doctor’s prescription: Focus on God. Look to Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith.
The refrain of one of my favorite hymns goes like this: Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
The author is telling us at this point to be proactive whenever suffering of any kind threatens to have us for a meal. Make no mistake about it. Suffering desires to consume us. And the author is saying that we should order our mind to focus on the Lord; think of His love, His compassion and most of all His faithfulness.
Romans 5:8 will remind us that God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. And we can take comfort by focusing further on Romans 8:35 which assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.
The parable of the Good Samaritan will remind us that the Lord when He saw someone bruised and beaten and left for dead on the roadside by bandits, Jesus was moved with compassion. Sufferings are like bandits who beat up on us and rob us of our joy. We can take comfort in knowing that Jesus is aware of our condition and His compassion is new and ready to work in our behalf every time we wake up to a new day.
And 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that God is faithful; He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. But when we are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that we can stand up under it.
But in case we fall (and we will) and suffer its consequence, there is 1 John 1:9 which is ready to remind us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and will purify us from all unrighteousness. We can end suffering that comes from sinning by confessing.
And by all means, do not forget Romans 8:28 which reminds us that in all things, in all our suffering, God works for the good of those who love him; those who have been called according to His purpose.
Now what happens when we follow the example of the author of Lamentations on how to deal with suffering. What is the result? Can we expect immediate result?
Yes we can. The immediate result is this: We are so empowered that we are able to wait or hope on the Lord. We may suffer but we can face the future expectantly. We may not know what the future holds but because we know who holds the future, we have confidence and hope in the Lord. And because we have hope, two things happen: We are able to rest and rejoice. And because we can rest and rejoice then we are able to listen more closely to what the Lord is saying to us.
Isaiah 40:31 tells us that those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. It takes a lot of strength to be able to listen closely to God and hear what He is saying to us during times of suffering. But God is faithful. He will provide us with the strength we need to be able to hear His still small voice.
I do not know what your situation is; what kind of suffering you are going through right now. But I know this: God is faithful. He has never failed to give me direction when I needed to find my way. He has shown me how to deal with the various sufferings I go through. When I needed understanding, He has been faithful to give me wisdom liberally.
Maybe you have to make a move? Maybe you have to leave the past behind and make a new start. Maybe you have to make a career change to end the misery you’re in right now. Maybe you have to say sorry to somebody to relieve you of emotional pain. Maybe you have to give up a bad habit so you may make aging a little bit more tolerable. There is a remedy to whatever is causing you to suffer. Focus on God’s love, compassion and faithfulness. Receive the comfort and hope that can only come from Him. Receive the rest and rejoicing that hope brings. And finally receive the power to be able to listen to the voice of God. God is faithful, He wants to instruct us on how to effectively deal with suffering.
You need not worry about suffering. Neither do you need to worry about death. Just as there is a remedy for suffering, there is a remedy for death.
It is not by accident that you are reading this today. God wanted you to do so. If you are reading this and do not know how to escape death and live forever with God, listen to what Jesus is saying to you in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Jesus is saying to you that you can know for sure that you have eternal life right now. He is saying that you can know that you will not be condemned and know that you have crossed over from death to life. And that is by believing that it was God who sent Jesus Christ to save you from your sin. Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus, the Son of God, died there on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty of your sin that you may live eternally with Him in Paradise. I don’t know about you but I am excited to be in heaven with the Lord. I wouldn’t want to hang around here on earth one more minute after I have fought the good fight; after I have finished my race; and after I have kept the faith. Why should I?
In John 11:25-27, Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And then Jesus went on to ask Martha, “Do you believe this?” And Martha’s reply was, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Today, say “Yes Lord, I believe,” and know that you have eternal life.