Women are raped in the city.
Infants are dashed against the rocks.
Elders are treated without honor.
Those who die by the sword are considered blessed compared to those who face the agony of slow, imminent starvation.
The hands of compassionate women boil their children; they become their food.
The Lord has withdrawn HIs presence.
The fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon in 587 B.C. was utterly gruesome. Most of us are fortunate enough to have never experienced or even witnessed such atrocities as those perpetuated at that place. As I read Lamentations, I wanted the words on the page to stir my soul with compassion. After reading 1117 pages of the Old Testament, it can be easy for me to just blaze on through out of discipline rather than desire. I wanted Lamentations to be different. And it was. I have never endured nor witnessed that sort of devastation. However, I have served with those who understand the book of Lamentations well.
Six years ago, I was in Rwanda for three weeks studying genocide and reconciliation. I remember Febroni, a young woman my age, describing the anguish of watching the limbs of her baby brother be hacked off while strapped to her mother’s back. Her voice unwavering, she continued to recount being raped that day at the age of 8, following the slaughter of all eight of her brothers and uncles in the family. She had survived, but a part of her had died that day with her family.
Febroni knows what means to lament.
And I remember Inila Wakan. Time after time over the last five years would talk about the suffering and victories of the Lakota people. I could almost feel his tangible grief as he described the break from the Old Ways–life before the Lakota came into contact with American settlers. As so many of his people struggle with historical trauma, he seeks to be a voice in the wilderness crying out to his people to return to Wakan Tanka, the God of Israel, God of the Lakota. But how many people–how many children–have been lost?
Inila Wakan knows what it means to lament.
Jeremiah prophesied the fall of Jerusalem for 40 years. Despite his repeated pleas for decades, the people of Israel refused to repent, securing their judgement from the Lord. He endured abandonment, beatings, scorn and imprisonment for the Lord and for their sake. And when Jerusalem fell as he knew it would, he did gloat. No, the man known as the “weeping prophet” wrote the book of Lamentations.
For Jeremiah knew what it meant to lament.
“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.”
But this mighty man of God doesn’t leave us there, allowing our soul to die in the agony of desolate hope. No, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he writes:
“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.”
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.”
Yes, Febroni, Inila and Jeremiah knew what it meant to lament. But, each of these also know what it means to place all your hope in the living God. Hundreds of years later, the author of Hebrews would call this hope an anchor for our souls. No matter how brutally devastating the storm, they’re confident in steadfast love of the Lord.