The walls are crumbling around you. You can’t think of anything to be thankful for. It feels like life is passing you by.
To make things worse, you have this wracking sense of guilt because you think your faith requires you to be happy. You think your inability to handle suffering somehow means you’re inadequate.
I recently went through a season of anxiety and grief. There were days when I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed and hide from the responsibilities of life; days when I could hardly pay attention to my kids, listen to my wife, or complete the smallest of tasks. I was standing still, watching the world spin around me.
Exhausted by this feeling, I turned to God’s Word to see what he had to say about this kind of season. Before long, he led me to a gem I’d never discovered in the middle of what I once thought was the most depressing book in all the Bible: Lamentations.
FINDING HOPE IN LAMENTATIONS
Most scholars think Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah as the city of Jerusalem was being sacked by King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army. The book captures the crushing moments when Jeremiah’s beloved city is being invaded, his people are being slaughtered and carried off into exile, and the temple was being destroyed. The walls were quite literally crumbling around him.
In the midst of this scene, Jeremiah writes,
My soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Buried within these verses are four treasures that can help us find hope when the walls are crumbling around us.
1. RIGHT KNOWLEDGE OF GOD LEADS TO HOPE IN GOD
Jeremiah, who is often referred to as the “weeping prophet,” has no peace in his life. There is only anxiety and desperation, which is why he has forgotten what happiness is. And who could blame him with the chaos surrounding him?
The prophet has lost hope in God’s promises. He has lost hope that God knows what he’s doing. That he’s just and righteous and good.
But verse 21 marks a turning point. Jeremiah turns from disbelief in what’s happening around him and reminds himself of what he knows about God: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”
He’s chooses to remember what he knows to be true about God. And when he does that, he recovers his hope. Pay attention to the order: First, Jeremiah reminds himself of what he knows to be true about God, then he recovers his hope.
So often, we want an action plan to follow, something to help us feel like we’re making progress. But the first step to finding hope in times of suffering isn’t an external action—it’s an internal one.
When we call to mind the things about God which are true—things that the Lord himself has revealed to us in scripture—we find ourselves able to cling to hope when everything is falling apart.
2. GOD’S FAITHFULNESS ENCOURAGES OURS
After setting his sights on the right knowledge of God, Jeremiah starts listing off aspects of God’s character: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Jeremiah is reminding himself that God’s love is unwavering, not half-hearted. When you’re in a dark pit of anxiety, depression, or grief, knowing that God’s love is fixed on you—that it’s not dependent on what you do—will drive you to hope in his deliverance.
The weeping prophet also says God’s mercies never come to an end; they’re new every morning. It is by God’s mercy that we are breathing. It is by his mercy that we have a house, a job, clothes, food, friends, or family. It is by his mercy that the world keeps spinning and the sun doesn’t burn us up. No matter how terrible today is, God’s mercies start anew with the rising of the sun each day.
Jeremiah reminds himself that God’s faithfulness is great as well. When we think deeply on God’s faithfulness to keep his promises—to never stop loving us, to redeem us no matter what we’ve done—it has the power to drive us to our knees in thanksgiving.
One of the great hymns of all time, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” comes from this line. Its chorus cries out,
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
All that we need, God has provided.
Knowing these characteristics of God drove Jeremiah to declare, “The Lord is my portion”—that he is enough. And with God alone he will be satisfied. God’s faithfulness encouraged Jeremiah’s faithfulness, and it encourages ours as well.
3. HOPE IS DEVELOPED THROUGH WAITING
If you’re going through a season of suffering, the last thing you want to do is wait. You want deliverance now. You want the suffering to stop and things to get better.
That’s exactly how I felt when I was struggling with anxiety until I read these words from Jeremiah:
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.
As soon as I read that, I knew I had been going about my waiting all wrong. I was complaining to my wife. I was moody all the time. I was hard to get along with.
That’s such a contrast to what Jeremiah says. He says the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him; that it’s good for us to quietly endure the suffering we experience, because it’s through that endurance that God develops hope in us.
That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your suffering with God or your spouse or trusted friends or advisors. It means you don’t take the disposition of complaining and whining, crying “woe is me.”
While we can’t control our emotions, we can control our response to those emotions. We can choose to be miserable, or we can choose to find joy. We can choose to be frustrated with God and stop trusting that he knows what he’s doing, or we can choose to look to God and trust his plans.
We can choose to live in despair, or we can choose to live with hope.
4. HOPE IS GROUNDED IN ETERNITY
Jeremiah chose to hope in God, and to do so quietly and patiently. It’s good that he was patient because he wasn’t delivered right away. In fact, things got worse for him. He was put into a pit, put into stocks, then he was taken against his will to a foreign country. Tradition has it that he was stoned to death by his fellow countrymen who were tired of hearing his pronouncements of judgment.
So was Jeremiah’s hope misplaced? Was he a fool to find hope in the midst of suffering that never let up?
No, because Jeremiah’s hope was grounded in eternity. He knew he would one day enjoy eternity with God, free from all the trials and suffering he faced while on earth.
Ultimately, our hope in Christ is grounded in knowing we’ll spend eternity with him. Our hope cannot be rooted in anything of this world, because everything in this world can and will be taken from us.
Whatever you’re suffering through right now is difficult, maybe even debilitating. But if your hope is simply in your situation changing, you will never find peace.
Jeremiah found peace because he knew his hope was in something outside this world. No man, no empire, no disease, no sickness could take it from him. That’s why he said, “he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (v. 32). And the fullest expression of that compassion is found in the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The fact that Jesus lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, was resurrected from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God is proof that God is overflowing with steadfast love and compassion. And he has poured it out on you and me.
A HOPE THAT CAN’T BE TAKEN
Later in chapter 3, Jeremiah wrote,
For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.
Though we are grieved today, that grief will not last forever because he is a compassionate God, and great is his faithfulness. He has set his sights not on harming us, but on loving us with his abundant love.
You may be in a time of great distress, but God wants to forge in you a hope that can’t be taken by anything life can throw at you. He wants to develop a hope in you that is outside of this world. And he will not leave you to suffer forever.
That is the hope I clung to when I was spiritually languishing. And it’s the hope I continue to cling to when I my mind spirals out of control and anxiety seeps into my bones.
May the right knowledge of God lead you to hope in him. May his faithfulness encourage yours. May hope be developed in your waiting. And may that hope be grounded in eternity.