I have long avoided Lamentations. The writer lamented too much – did his job too well. Then I realised that for the Psalmist, praise often proceeds from lamentation. I recalled that The Psalms have a good share of moaning and groaning, even a barbaric and comical blend of cursings. Lamenting and praising are not strange bedfellows after all.
“The thought of my affliction and homelessness is wormwood and gall. My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.” (Lam 3:19-20; NRSV)
My recent second series of chemo, necessitated by the aggressive spread of my nose cancer, created what my oncologist called a possible “recall” effect. This recall brought back painful side-effects of my old radiotherapy – inner-ear-piercing, Sashimi-knife-slashing-of-tongue and back-of-right-mouth pains.
“But this I call to mind, 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.”
Your first impression is that these famous song lines come from The Psalms, right? Gotcha! You’ll find them in Lamentations 3:21-23.
The recalling of affliction, be it that of the Lamentations writer or my chemo’s recall of old radiotherapy wounds, are countered by the new calling to mind of His steadfast love.
Books on writing remind me not to repeat myself, not to say things again. But The Psalms and Lamentations keep repeating themselves. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” but doesn‘t being steadfast means never ceasing? The Lamenter, together with the Psalmist, was blatantly repeating, as if to tell the readers, just in case you haven’t gotten it, the love of the Lord never ceases. The Lord wants me, wants you, to etch in our hearts that in adversity, He never deserts us, for:
“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul that seeks Him.” (Lam 3:25)
“It is good to bear the yoke in youth.” (Lam 3:27)
In the Old Testament youth started early and ended pretty late.
With that yoke, through affliction and spiritual disciplines, Lamentations 3:32-33 remind us:
“Although He causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”
The writer’s repetitions were unending – he was unfailingly grateful to the Lord:
“You came near when I called on You; and said, ‘Do not fear.’ You have taken up my cause O Lord. You have redeemed my life.” (Lam 3:57-58)
We will not fully understand why the Lord afflicts us – mine is aggressive cancer, your suffering may be aggressive in other forms, acute depression, bipolar disorder, a relationship disaster, an abusive childhood, a family torn apart, a bully victim, academic failures, career blows.
It could be like the stroke that within days took Elder Chin Keng, YCKC’s Barnabas and the humblest man I knew in person, from us. We do not fully understand why – but His compassion remains with us, His assurance of love is constant.
Do not think that as afflicted ones we are to mouth praise like Lionel Richie prancing All Night Long. The Lamenter groaned much of the day. Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman J.B. Philips in 52 ministry years of his 76 mortal years suffered from depression and saw the valley of darkness every day, sunny or stormy. Joni Eareckson Tada is paralysed from shoulders down and recently stricken with cancer. Hymn writers disabled and infirmed – all doing ‘war-zone’ writing with occasional good interludes. Betsy, Corrie Ten Boom’s elder sister, died in Ravensbrück concentration camp in December 1944 but she never wavered in believing that no matter how deep the pit, her Saviour was deeper. And I, with blood-test pricks and intravenous insertions made on my forearms and my frail Charlie-Chaplinesque gait that would tempt the Central Narcotics Bureau to haul me in for testing, am only facing battle skirmishes for now, soon to confront frontline battles and guerrilla war. And I was not one-tenth as tormented as my Cantonese neighbour-patient who haunted the ward with a cacophony of paimia, aiyoh, boi-ah, warna-lan, yu-eh-eow, waswasmia, hurri-yeh.
As I write to you, this piece is my way of praising at the end of my lamentation. There is a saying: God may disappoint us, but He never abandons us.
Before praising, the Lamenter thanked the Lord, and that was after seeking His help. It’s a triune spirituality: one spiritual outpost leading to the next, as if the Lamenter could not wait to praise, then sought help, quickly thanked God again.
That’s the way to live out V.C. – Victory in Christ, in good times and bad: Help me O Lord, Thank You Lord, Praise the Lord!
By Wong Chai Kee, Elder (YCKC Bulletin 14&15 September 2013)
(Editor’s note: Elder Wong Chai Kee was called home to the Lord on 17 Sept 2013, a few days after writing this article. He is now enjoying the eternal loving embrace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.)