Thursday 4 April 2019

Broken Covenant

I co-wrote (with friend and colleague, Nell Goddard) this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, currently reflecting on Lamentations during this period of Lent.

The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindles a fire in Zion
that consumed her foundations...
But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
the blood of the righteous.
Lamentations 4:11, 13

The hope of chapter 3, it seems, has faded, and the present reality of the suffering is described as the poet contrasts the ‘then’ of pre-siege Jerusalem with the ‘now’ of today’s suffering.

But even more than that, the poet now seems to be seeking out someone or something to blame for the situation in which Jerusalem finds herself. And the answer is clear: ‘The Lord has given full vent to his wrath... it happened because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests.’

The judgment of God has come upon Jerusalem because the leaders disregarded justice and sinned against God, ignoring countless warnings and failing to adhere to his laws, and so he has ‘poured out his fierce anger’.

To talk about suffering as a punishment from God is to venture into difficult territory. Suffering is a multi-faceted issue in the Bible, with different parts of Scripture addressing it from different perspectives. It is, of course, important to remember that not all suffering is a punishment from God.

Lamentations, however, is clear that the particular suffering it describes does come about as a direct result of God’s doing. It is not always easy to discern the difference between this type of suffering and that which is merely a natural outworking of our own actions, and we must always be careful not to go beyond the Bible in deciding what counts as God’s punishment and what does not.

The whole thrust of this book, however, suggests that the poet is aware that God is ultimately responsible for bringing about the suffering they are experiencing. This matches with all the warnings of the prophets of the exile, like Zephaniah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah himself, all of whom warn the people in no uncertain terms that God himself will judge them if they continue to break the terms of his covenant with them. This, in turn, goes back to the warnings of Moses in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere which say that the Lord himself will be active in bringing about the covenant curses resulting in the sort of suffering portrayed in Lamentations.

As we have seen in the rest of the book, these are deep questions to which there are no simple answers. There are great mysteries here.

If nothing else, they must cause us to throw ourselves afresh on God’s mercy demonstrated supremely in the cross of Jesus Christ.

No comments: