I read quickly, especially when I’m enraptured with a book and I need to know what is going to happen and I need to know it now. I can devour several hundred page books faster than I ought.
I also don’t read every word.
In an effort to maximize time and minimize the uncomfortable delay in finding out what happens at the best or intense parts of books, I think my brain engages in a form of skim reading. Somehow it seems I evaluate a chunk of text, take in key phrases, fly through words and slow down just in time to get to the part I really need to read.
Except sometimes I’m wrong.
Sometimes I need to read every syllable of the tension, endure every word of the mundane, soak in every piece of trivial detail because, as it turns out, good authors seldom waste words.
And there is a book that I read regularly, written by the best author possible, with the best story ever told, and… I’m being honest here… I’m often guilty of not reading every word of my Bible.
Yet, something happens when I do.
Actually, many things happen, probably a lot more than I’ll ever realize. Some passages leave me confused, some sections stretch my patience, some parts leave me wishing I was smarter and had studied Greek and Hebrew, some parts leave me angry, some parts unexpectedly bring me to my knees, some parts cut me to the core with conviction, some parts bring intense anger, some parts make me feel seen and known and loved… some parts leave me crying…
But I wouldn’t know any of that if I keep skipping over the parts I’d rather not read.
I found one of those passages, hiding away in a book I don’t often frequent and probably read half-attentively when I do… but the words really got me this time.
And I want you to read them too. every.word.of.the.passage.in.Lamentations.
“They” say not to give people more than 10 verses to read at one time or the readers will lose focus. But let’s challenge ourselves today and read all the words in all the verses and not let “them” be right. (spoiler- that will be 66 verses, but I believe in us.)
3 I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
34 To crush underfoot
all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
would not the Lord see such things?
37 Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain
when punished for their sins?
40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled
and you have not forgiven.
43 “You have covered yourself with anger and pursuedus;
you have slain without pity.
44 You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.
45 You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations.
46 “All our enemies have opened their mouths
wide against us.
47 We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
ruin and destruction.”
48 Streams of tears flow from my eyes
because my people are destroyed.
49 My eyes will flow unceasingly,
50 until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
51 What I see brings grief to my soul
because of all the women of my city.
52 Those who were my enemies without cause
hunted me like a bird.
53 They tried to end my life in a pit
and threw stones at me;
54 the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to perish.
55 I called on your name, Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”
58 You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.
59 Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
Uphold my cause!
60 You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
all their plots against me.
61 Lord, you have heard their insults,
all their plots against me—
62 what my enemies whisper and mutter
against me all day long.
63 Look at them! Sitting or standing,
they mock me in their songs.
64 Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under the heavens of the Lord.
Did you make it all the way through? You can click here if you want to read it in a different translation. Anything else I could say really can wait until you’ve read the whole chapter.
Lamentations is a book nestled into the Old Testament. For many, it isn’t a book they frequently read. This book responds to the events of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction and exile. Which, as The Bible Project says, “was the most horrendous catastrophe in Israel’s history up to this point.” Lamentations 3 is an acrostic poem; the verses of each stanza begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the verses within each stanza begin with the same letter. And in a way this book expressed grief in a way we might find quite foreign in modern times. It contains, so to speak an A to Z protest, processing of emotion and voicing confusion of the people to the Lord in response to great suffering.
Reading this chapter was heart-wrenching; I almost couldn’t read past verse 20… Can you bear to just sit with 1-20 for a bit?! All the anguish of the realities of each verse telling us “He has…” Because, see at least for me, I am used to a list of “He has” in the Bible being a list of “good” things, confirmation of the Lord’s character: faithfulness, protection, love.
This list of “He has” statements stings… go back and read them again. If you’re like me, highlight the words, take note of their intense emotions. Sit with the depth of pain expressed here. Is that uncomfortable?
Yes, and it is real. The Lord is big enough to hear the cries of those in anguish, those abused, those in desolate circumstance, those in the depths of despair…
Then verse 20 is like the punch in the gut moment, “I will never forget this awful time.”
Have you experienced pain like that? Days of excruciating anguish that you won’t ever forget?
Now to be truthful, my anguish is nothing compared to extent of Jerusalem here in this passage, and yet, each day we all face anguish, heartache, pain, trials and struggles… because we are all part of one body and somewhere, someplace not to far from us, even when we are not suffering our fellow believers do and we suffer with them.
Suffering is not the last word.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![b]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
“Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this…” Does that same refrain rise in your heart, the melody that emerges amongst the dissonance, pain and destruction? Do you still dare to hope?
And from here, from the deepest of grief shines the brightest of hope. From this very real expression we find our hearts open to the greatest of truths. Then verses 28-30 sting in a beautiful, holy defiance of faith!
“For no one is cast off by the Lord forever.”
Going back to the passage, reading each subsequent stanza, allowing the realness of both the suffering and the hope wash over my mind anew I find myself right in the place of the author in verses 48, 49, and 51: tears of grief wash over me in the most healing of ways.
And just like the authors tears flow freely so should ours too in lament. To seek Him in the lowest of places is to find His love in the deepest of experiences.
When we read what we’d rather skip over, when we express what we’d rather not feel we find truths we’d never want to miss.