I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear to my cry for help!” You came near when I called on you; you said, “Do not fear!” – Lamentations 3:55-57 ESV
This prayer, recorded in the book of Lamentations is found in the midst of a lengthy section that recounts the faithfulness of God. The book was more than likely written by Jeremiah and is a post-captivity record of his reflections on all that had happened to Judah as a result of their refusal to return to the Lord. Their stubborn rebellion had brought about the fall of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of the people of Judah to the land of Babylon. Jeremiah remained behind and the book of Lamentations contains his thoughts on all that had happened. The book opens with the following statement: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave” (Lamentations 1:1 ESV). The first chapter paints a bleak and depressing scene as Jeremiah, sitting in the abandoned city of Jerusalem, recalls the cause of the nation’s fall from grace. He pulls no punches when he writes, “the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (Lamentations 1:5 ESV). “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy” (Lamentations 1:8 ESV). “Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future” (Lamentations 1:9 ESV). All that had happened was the result of their sin and the work of God. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago; he has thrown down without pity; he has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes” (Lamentations 2:17 ESV).
In chapter three, Jeremiah recounts his own suffering during his days as the prophet of God. He had spent years attempting to call the people of Judah to repentance, but with no success. He endured rejection, ridicule and even physical abuse as a result of his ministry. There had been days when he felt all alone and it seemed as if God had abandoned him. He had gotten so low that it led him to say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). But in the midst of all his sorrow, he kept going back to the one thing he knew about God. He was loving and faithful. “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 ESV). Even while sitting in the middle of a burned out, broken down, and abandoned city, Jeremiah could think about the love and mercy of God. Even though he knew that the destruction of Judah had been the work of God, it did not change his view of God. He was able to say, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:25-27 ESV). He knew that God’s punishment had been justified and had been done out of love. He also knew that, “though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:32 ESV).
For Jeremiah it was pretty simple. The people of Judah had gotten what they had deserved. They had no right to shake their fists at God in anger or accuse Him of injustice. “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:39-40 ESV). Their circumstances called for a time of reflection and self-examination. They needed to focus on and own up to their own sinfulness. They desperately needed to come to the point where they could confess, “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven” (Lamentations 3:42 ESV). But Jeremiah knew that no matter how bad things got or how deep their pit of despair may feel, their God would hear them when they called out. He knew it from personal experience. “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea.” He had known what it is like to have God come near when called. He had heard God say, “Do not fear!” There is no sin too great for God to forgive. There is no pit so deep that God cannot reach down His hand and rescue. There is no cry He can’t hear. All He asks is that we acknowledge our sin, admit our need for Him, and return to Him in humility and dependence.
Too often, our cries to God are based solely on what we want Him to do for us. We want His deliverance from pain and suffering more than we want Him. We want Him to rescue us from our predicament, but we don’t necessarily want to submit to His lordship over our life. We want Him to fix our problem, but don’t want to admit that we were the cause of it. One of the hardest things for us to do is to test and examine our ways. We don’t want to take ownership for our sin. We don’t want to admit guilt. We would rather justify our actions. It is difficult for us to say, “We have transgressed and rebelled.” But confession is essential if we want to experience God’s forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We don’t need to fear, because He hears. But he wants to hear us call with repentant hearts, openly confessing our sins and humbly submitting to His will for our lives.