2008-07-13am Lamentations 2 Sorrow Is Better Than Laughter (Part 2)
When I was growing up in Kamloops, we had a songbook, somewhat like our Hallelujah book, but it was full of good old Christian campfire songs, like, “Pass It On”
Do you remember that one? The lyrics go something like this: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it, the Lord of Love has come to me, I want to pass it on.”
Do you believe that? Have you experienced that? Is that true for you? Have you experienced the Lord of Love, have you passed that experience, that knowledge on?
If not, what’s stopping you?
Is it the reality of these words in Lamentations?
Is it the reality of your own suffering? Is it the sorrow you’ve experienced in the past? Is it the sorrow you’re experiencing even now? Is it the unfathomable sorrow that you see on the news? Is the cares and the concerns you have for your loved ones? Especially in light of the violent times we live in?
Doesn’t it seem like a world of chaos is contradictory to a God of love?
Doesn’t it seem like at times that God couldn’t have possibly designed and created a world, called it good then allowed so much evil to permeate it?
And while the reality of our own responsibility is one thing, it does seem particularly harsh and cruel, doesn’t it?
How does the truth of 1 John 4:8 and 16, which say that God is Love, how does that fit with the truth of Lamentations 2?
Look at the words used to describe God!
“anger, without pity, in wrath, in fierce anger, He has withdrawn his right hand, He has burned like a flaming fire, like an enemy he has strung his bow, like a foe He has slain, he has poured out his wrath like fire. The Lord is like an enemy, he has swallowed up Israel, and He has multiplied mourning and lamentation. He has laid waste his dwelling. In His fierce anger he has spurned both king and priest. He has rejected his altar and abandoned his sanctuary. He stretched out a measuring line and did not withhold his hand from destroying.”
Because of God’s judgement on Israel, on Judah, on Jerusalem, infants and children died. Men and young men wasted away. Extreme hunger forced cannibalisation upon mothers who should’ve been caring for their children instead.
It is a description of pain and grief to match or surpass anything we’ve ever or will ever experience.
How is it possible that God can be both angry and loving? How can God allow such suffering and not be considered evil?
The truth is, we really need to know and understand God.
Let’s look at the reality that God is love.
Because God is love, is there anything else in the world, in the universe that is worthy of love? Is there anything else that we can possibly love more than Him who is the very essence of love?
The answer, simply, is no. There is nothing else that we can possibly love more than God. Nothing comes close to such a definition as “God is love.” No matter how much you love your wife, your husband, your children, your parents, your fiancée, anything, not one of those things is as worthy of your love, of my love than God. For, God is love.
Now, try to put yourself in God’s shoes. You are love. You have created a universe and have peopled it with creatures that are able to receive and give love. And since you are the greatest love of all, naturally, all love ought to be given to you. But then, these creatures deliberately pour out their love to another, and they spurn your love.
That’s what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. They did not love God. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Do you love God in this way? Adam and Eve did not love God more than they loved their pursuit for knowledge, food, and instruction from a fellow creature. They put all those things ahead of God.
And, as God warned them, they fell. They brought sin into the human race. And the human race has been tainted by that sin ever since.
And sin brought death and suffering and sorrow.
God was justified in giving out his punishment on humanity. He set down the rules, they were not ignorant, naïve, perhaps, but not ignorant. And ever since, God’s anger has burned against sin.
The inspired Biblical authors understood this. They understood that because of the fall, God’s wrath against sin is poured out. Suffering is reality of life. In fact, as D. A. Carson said in response to a question at the 2008 Desiring God conference, the Biblical authors write with an air of surprise that the world hasn’t been destroyed yet. And in that, they see God’s love and God’s grace.
And this is why the Teacher of Ecclesiastes wrote: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). It is because we must come to terms with reality. Reality is not a big comfy couch. Reality is not finding success at the top of the corporate ladder, the most prestigious awards, the top of the graduating class, the long weekend vacation, and the trips to Mexico.
Those are part of reality, but reality isn’t permanently living on a beach, doing whatever you want to do. Reality is getting up in the morning; even when your aching joints don’t want to get up. Reality is fighting the temptation to sleep in, if that is a temptation for you. Reality is doing your devotions even if you don’t feel like it, even if you’d rather read the paper, or watch the news. Reality is getting the kids up and ready for another day. Reality going to work, or working at home and caring for others, even if you’d rather just care for yourself.
Reality is dealing with suffering that is sure to come. Suffering is reality. Sorrow is better than laughter.
Why? Because sorrow is reality. Laughter is a brief escape from the cares of the world. Laughter is the delight of future hope. Laughter, joy and peace are temporary, important, vital, yes, but temporary in this life, they are glimpses of the life to come in Christ.
But sorrow prepares us for the future.
The picture in Ecclesiastes is of a funeral procession. Sorrow is better because it forces us to look at the reality of the future. We are all going to die. The only certainty in life is death and taxes, right!
Sorrow is better than laughter because it brings us into reality: that we are under God’s sovereignty.
Yes, God is Love! God is sovereign. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. There will be a greater reckoning for evil. All the suffering that the world has, and is, and will experience, will be explained. All the suffering that humanity has experienced has also been experienced by God.
When we reach the depths of sorrow, God is there!
We must not be surprised by suffering! We must expect it! Listen to 1 Peter 1.3-9: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Consider also 1 Peter 4:12-19 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
The suffering we experience is temporary. We have already seen and have already experienced the reality of eternal life with Christ. He promises that in heaven there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more tears. Our joy will be such as a mother holding her new infant after hours of excruciating labour. With the new life in her arms, already the pain is nearly forgotten. Because of the new life, the pain is lessened.
Because of our new life in Christ, all suffering and pain does not surprise us. Instead, it reminds us of reality. It reminds us of our future hope in Christ.
The suffering that came to Jerusalem was indeed harsh. But it was necessary. For they had forgotten God. They had turned their backs on Him. The suffering brought them to their knees and they remembered what was most important.
Their response was like that of Job.
Do you know Job’s response? Have you uttered similar words? Faced with tremendous suffering, Job simply confessed, ““Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
Are you prepared to suffer, if you are not suffering already? If you are suffering, are you able to confess as Job did? Do you trust in God and His love and His sovereignty? Or are you bitter and angry.
If you are bitter and angry, you will have opportunity to spend some time in prayer of confession after the sermon. Yes, it is a prayer of confession because who are we to harbour anger and bitterness before the one who is Love.
We are able to turn to Him who is love because he demonstrated his love for us in this, “While we were sinners, He did not spare his own Son, but sent him to die, bearing all God’s wrath against sin upon him. The suffering of the world is nothing compared to the suffering experienced by God’s own righteous Son. Those who are suffering, or who will suffer in the future, be comforted by God’s Son. Amen.