This morning Andy and I finished five studies in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. The book is made up of five laments written while Israel were being exiled by God for their sin. They show the terror of wrath, the pain of enduring it and why it happened. They provide an anatomy of God's attitude to sin.
Judgement removed gospel benefits.
The final poem appears to be a repentant prayer that calls on the LORD (Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love) to see their situation. Verses 1-18 give a summary of the situation faced as God judged his people (and the earlier poems make it very clear that the judgement came from God's hand, as God acted in accordance with his own word and in response to their sin). The detail centres upon a loss of inheritance, joy of heart, crown, sight and heart. These are the benefits of being God's covenant people.
The Christian lives inseparably in these benefits - it's unimaginable to think of the loss of fellowship with other Christians, the loss of access to God, the loss of the presence of the Spirit, the loss of God's word, the loss of the status of sons... how appalling it would be. God's people in the days of exile forfeitted their benefits and it was tragic.
In the exile they lost their land and homes but this was more than the loss of territory, it was the loss of the home that God had promised them. The loss of joy of heart is a loss of God's word. Jeremiah writes in his book (15v16) of how the word of God was a joy to his heart because he was one of God's chosen people. In judgement that status is gone, and with it their joy. The crown was honour and priviledge for God's treasured people. And loss of sight is further loss of God's word that once lit their path. The loss of gospel priviledges works out in the loss of life.
Restoration only comes from the sovereign God.
Concluding this final lament (v19-22) the people turn to the LORD and declare that he rules forever. They have lost all things but he reigns forever. He is God. Their God reigns - hear the gospel! If God remains exceedingly angry (v22) with them then they are doomed. Only if God's wrath is turned aside will they live. And yet (v21) if God will restore them they can be restored, if and only if God who rules acts to save them. This encapsulates the tension of Lamentations, wrath and mercy meet - how can the tension be relieved? Only by way of the cross can God be both just (as the exile shows) and the justifier (who restores his people). Only at the cross can the coming near of God's kingdom rule be good news of great joy and peace for people - only their will restoration and reconciliation come.