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Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5:21-22)
As I was preparing for the current sermon series on suffering, loss, lament, and trust, I studied the Old Testament book of Lamentations for the first time. There is a reason that most Christians are unfamiliar with the book, for Lamentations isn’t filled with the kind of verses that get used for inspirational Facebook quotes or devotional reading (except for Lamentations 3:22-23, which reads “Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”). 99% of the verses are painful and heartfelt cries coming from a people who are witnessing their homes being destroyed and their family and friends either slaughtered or taken into captivity.
The book ends with this uncertain plea: Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5:21-22). As jarring as this ending is, as I give it more thought, I find it refreshing to see how the author refuses to resolve the book neatly. He does not presume to believe that life will end with victory and a return to glory for either himself or his people. He recognizes that this defeat may be a sign that life will be hard for the rest of his days on earth.
I find this refreshing because I see how so much of modern Christian art and media and testimony resolves neatly, and usually a little TOO neatly. By the end, there is almost always victory and inspiration. If the story involves death or defeat, it only seems to be allowed if there is an obvious greater good that we can see coming out of it. But the author of Lamentations knows that life does not always resolve neatly. Sometimes God does not answer your heartfelt cries for rescue and victory. Sometimes you die in captivity while your hometown sits in ruins.
As much as I am inspired by the uplifting Christian music and victorious Christian movies and stirring testimonies of men and women who have seen God turn around their difficult situations, we need to tell more of the other stories, the ones that nobody would write a happy song about or make into an inspiring movie. We have believed the lie that the pastor whose church becomes a megachurch is the great man of faith whose books we should buy, while the one who toils away for decades with little fanfare and meager results according to worldly standards has nothing worth listening to. We think that the couple that is always smiling and in love is the one who should be on stage sharing their story, while the ones barely hanging on but still trying to make it work, or the ones who just can’t make it work despite their best efforts, do not have stories worth hearing or learning from. We look to the celebrities, the famous, the beautiful, the tech-savvy, to tell us what faith is like, all the while ignoring the everyday men and women of faith who struggle along but more than likely have richer and deeper stories to share.
In Hebrews 11, the writer lists some great men and women of faith and the amazing things God did in and through their lives. But in verse 35, the tone shifts, and he begins to talk about other men and women of faith who were tortured, mistreated, poor, and beaten down by the world. He concludes by writing, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:39-40). Even though their lives did not seem to follow the formula of “great faith results in great victory,” the writer of Hebrews lets us know in no uncertain terms that their faith is also worthy of commendation.
Christian media may love to promote stories of uplift and inspiration that resolve neatly, but that is not how life typically is for most of us this side of heaven. Do not lose heart if your life doesn’t measure up to the movies and the songs and the testimonies of others. You are not a failure if your life does not neatly resolve. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you too will be commended for your faith.