But whoever is among the living has hope;
a live dog is better than a dead lion.
–Ecclesiastes 9:4 NET
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.
–Lamentations 3:21-23 NIV
“That I even have breath is evidence of your mercy, therefore I have hope…” (my paraphrase). Do you ever feel this way? Does it make sense to you that Jeremiah would say this after 19 verses describing his experience of God in such violent terms like these? “He has driven me away…” (v.2). “He made my skin and flesh grow old…” (v.4). “Even when I cry out for help, he shuts out my prayer” (v.8). “Like a bear lying in wait, he dragged me from the path and mangled me, leaving me without help” (v.10). “He has broken my teeth with gravel, trampling me in the dust” (v.16).
If this is what He does to His friends, what must it be like to be His enemy? Seriously. Why would Jeremiah claim that even taking another breath under such horrible conditions is evidence of God’s mercy? Love. Covenantal love, to be precise. I know, the answer does not feel equal to the pain and distress. Yet, somehow, knowing God is in a loving covenantal relationship with Him contextualizes the pain.
Jeremiah’s hope is not that his pain would end. Rather, his hope only finds its deepest meaning in relationship with God. This makes me think of Psalm 42:5 and 11 where the Psalmist rhetorically asks himself, “Why downcast? Hope in God, for I will again praise Him” (author’s paraphrase). In the first instance, the Psalmist reminds himself that he is in relationship with God (v.4). However, in verse 8, the Psalmist recognizes that God is in relationship with him. But this is not just any kind of relationship. It’s a covenant relationship—the same kind Jeremiah refers to in the Hebrew as hesed. Hesed says, “I will stay in covenant with you, and even if you break the covenant I will offer mercy, and not only mercy, I will lavish my grace upon you and give you far more than you can ever imagine.” That is what it means for God to be in covenant relationship with us.
If you read the rest of the chapter in Lamentations 3, the focus shifts from Jeremiah’s pain to God’s purposes and Jeremiah’s acceptance of God’s timing and intent. It seems to me that Biblical hope is not about bad circumstances coming right, it has more to do with something in us coming right (in the context of God’s love for us). In other words, Biblical hope has more to do with getting caught up in God’s story—what He is about and our accepting how He chooses to work it out in us and through us.
ACTION: Take some time with these thoughts. Pull out your own story, holding it before the Lord in the same way Jeremiah lifted his lament. Knowing God is in a covenant relationship with you does not take away the pain, but it does frame it in new ways. Write it down. Feeling hope may not happen right away. There may be so much “ouch” to pour out that thinking about His love and mercy may seem unthinkable. Don’t rush this. He is not afraid of how you feel. If you can, take some time to simply thank Him for breath. It doesn’t get much more basic than that, does it? As you hold the pieces of your life before Him, listen for His voice of love. And if you feel like it, take some time to write a response.