“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.”
– Lamentations 3:21- 24
Hope isn’t the word that comes to my mind when I think about 2020. In fact, I’m far more inclined to relate to the first part of Lamentations 3, where Jeremiah paints a vivid picture of suffering and despair (both literal and figurative). He talks about affliction (vs. 1), being without light (vs. 2), and feeling as if God’s hand is against him (vs. 3). He is enveloped by bitterness and tribulation (vs. 5), has become a laughingstock (vs. 14), and is bereft of peace or happiness (vs. 17).
Lamentations is the book of Jeremiah’s lament following the destruction of Israel. He was tasked with calling the people to repentance and they ignored him – they went right on sinning and the consequences were ugly. So it’s no surprise that Jeremiah is filled with lament as he watches his people suffer. The book of Lamentations is understandably dark and depressing, which is why I was surprised to find myself so drawn to chapter three. However, it makes sense – even though I can’t relate to the true horror and depth of suffering Jeremiah experienced, the theme of suffering and lament resonates with me right now.
This year has brought us trials. We have been cut off from family and friends. We have been criticized by people who disagree with the decisions we’ve made, which has led to lost friendships. We wonder if life will ever be the same again. For our family, we wonder how our church will be changed long-term by this year. Will we survive? Will our church still want us after everything this year has brought? Will we be too exhausted or burnt out to continue?
At the beginning of this year, my husband and I were excited. We had weathered some difficult storms for a few years in a row, and back in February, we thought things were looking up. We hoped that it would be a good year for us and that our church would grow in new and exciting ways. I had hope that we would experience peace, joy, and new growth in personal relationships.
This year has seen so many of my earthly hopes stripped away. As it turns out, many of my earthly hopes have been rooted in other people. I often turn to others during difficult times, to find my hope in them. I use those positive relationships to boost my hope for whatever discouraging situation I’m enduring. Right now, my certainty in those relationships has been stripped away. I have felt hopeless at times. Like Jeremiah, I have said in my heart, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (vs. 18).
Yet it is in the midst of this vividly depressing backdrop that Jeremiah says the main passage from Lamentations that most of us know, “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.’” He calls to mind the truth he already knows, the truth that has always been and always will be. He calls this truth to mind so that he can remember where true hope is found: in the steadfast love of the Lord.
While studying biblical hope, I noticed a pattern – hope is most often mentioned in the Bible as being found in the Lord, in His Word, or in His steadfast love, or some variation of that. True hope is not found in people or in circumstances. People are not steadfast. Our circumstances are not steadfast. These are all things my mind knows but my heart forgets.
I can tell myself that I’m putting my hope in God because I’m trusting in His people, so isn’t that ok? There’s certainly nothing wrong with the body of Christ encouraging and lifting one another up. That’s what we should be doing, after all! However, when I am counting on those brothers and sisters for my hope, instead of Christ alone, I’ve taken the first step toward feeling hopeless.
It is easy for me to be bitter about our circumstances, to focus on the ways I have been hurt, or the way life seems unfair. But the reality is, I am the one who has turned my face away from God. I am the one who has found too much hope in the security of my husband’s job, the good school district my children are in, or the relationships I have with people.
His love for me has not changed and it never will. Jeremiah begins chapter three in the pit of despair, feeling that God is against him. But then he reminds himself of what he knows about God – that God’s love for us never changes and His mercies are new every morning. If we can endure the night, morning is coming. And when Jeremiah reminds himself of these truths, the tone of the chapter changes. He’s still hurting and discouraged, and God’s discipline is still raining down on Israel, but now Jeremiah knows that God is with him, not against him. He remembers that God’s heart isn’t one of affliction but one of compassion (vs 32-33). That perspective brings hope in the midst of darkness.
Verses 22-23 have always been a source of encouragement to me, as they should be. They are beautiful even on their own. But when you put them in the middle of chapter three, in the midst of the dark and dreary picture Jeremiah has painted, they stand out even more as a bright and vivid message of hope for God’s children, even in the worst of times.
If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read the whole chapter in one sitting. See for yourself the beauty of that aside where Jeremiah calls to mind Who God is. There’s a lot of darkness going on in the night around us right now. Set your hope in God, in His steadfast love, and hang on for the morning. He is faithful and won’t disappoint!
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