Study Guide

God in Lamentations

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The Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth never makes an actual physical appearance in this book, but his presence looms really large over the whole story. Hey, the Big Guy casts a long shadow. Let's find out more, shall we?

More Sins, More Problems

According to the author of Lamentations, God may be all-powerful and all-knowing, but he's also the cause of the people's problems.

  • Is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted?" (1:12)
  • The Lord handed me over to those whom I cannot withstand. (1:14)
  • The Lord has trodden as in a wine press the virgin daughter Judah. (1:15)
  • The Lord has become like an enemy; he has destroyed Israel. (2:5)
  • He has demolished without pity. (2:17)
  • In the day of your anger you have killed them, slaughtering without mercy. (2:21)
  • He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation. (3:4-5)
  • You have made us filth and rubbish among the peoples. (3:45)
  • The Lord gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations. (4:41)

Get the point? Trust us, we edited this list way down. God's done a lot of super nasty stuff to these people. What gives?

Basically, the author believes that God is has control over everything in the universe. He decides the outcome of battles, so of course he was the one who let Jerusalem be destroyed. Sure, Babylon might have done the actual smashing and killing, but God pretty much stood by and let it happen. Babylon was just the means to get it done. If God had wanted to, he totally could have stopped them.

He's Got the Right Stuff

But he didn't want to. So, does that make God a big ol' meanie? No way. The Poet is very clear that God did the right thing:

  • The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word. (1:18)
  • The Lord has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat; as he ordained long ago. (2:17)
  • Who can command and have it done, if the Lord has not ordained it? (3:37)
  • Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins? (3:39)

God laid out the rules and gave the people fair warning. But they broke the law and now they have to pay the penalty. That's just fair and balanced. God is always right. It's just one of the perks of the job.

But seriously, though, this does seem like a pretty cruel thing for God to do. He stood by while his favorite city was crushed and his favorite people were murdered and exiled. Sure, the people sinned. But God did have options here. He could have forgiven them—he'd done that plenty of times before—and let bygones be bygones. Or he could have carried out a slightly less horrific punishment. Maybe he could have leveled the city, but left one really cool building standing just for show? Hey, we're just throwing out ideas here.

Even the Poet who, remember, isn't complaining about God's brand of justice here, does get discouraged about what God has put them through:

  • Lord, look at my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed! (1:9)
  • Look, O Lord, and see how worthless I have become. (1:11)
  • See, O Lord, how distressed I am. (1:20)
  • Look, O Lord, and consider! (2:20)
  • When one's case is subverted—does the Lord not see it? (3:36)
  • We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven. (3:42)
  • My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees. (3:49-50)
  • Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us. (5:1)
  • Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days? (5:20)

Over and over again, he begs God to just look at the suffering he's allowed and questions why God has done this. In fact, listing all these horrors out in detail is sort of a way to hold God accountable for everything. We get why you did it, God, but you need to see exactly what's gone down.

God Is Love, Right?

So God's allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and its people killed or exiled. You might think that there's not much hope for the relationship between God and the people going forward. Hey, if your best friend's boyfriend stood her up (for an important battle), you'd tell her to dump the bum, right?

But the people don't quit on God. Actually, they have faith that things will get better:

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." The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him[…] For the Lord will not reject forever. 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[…] You came near when I called on you; you said, "Do not fear!" You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. (3:21-25, 31-33, 57-59)

At his core, God is good. He never really wanted to punish the people. And he doesn't take any joy in seeing them suffer. He's not a cruel or vindictive guy. He only does it if there's no other way to get things done. In the end, he's gonna come through for the people. Right?

Well, it's not clear. The book ends on an ambiguous note. While the Poet clearly has hope that things will get better, he also questions whether or not God will want to make up with his chosen peeps:

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure. (5:21-22)

Some relationships just can't be fixed. We've got our fingers crossed for you, guys.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the Bible

The picture of God in Lamentations fits in pretty well with other parts of the Hebrew Bible. God is both wrathful and infinitely forgiving and sometimes a total pushover. He sometimes turns on his children when they push him to the breaking point. Like that one time he refused to let all those people into the Promised Land because they had been sinning. But other times, he lets them get away with murder. Literally. Remember Cain and Abel?

Both the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scriptures emphasize God's merciful nature. Moses reminds God how kind and forgiving he is on multiple occasions (Numbers 14:18), mostly in an effort to get him to change his mind about destroying everyone. Jesus and the early Christians thought that caring about others was the most important thing because "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Following rules was a close second. But God also does not suffer fools. If you know what's right and do the wrong thing anyway, you're gonna be in a world of hurt.

God. He's so hardcore.

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