The destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC is the likely setting for the book of Lamentations. This was the most traumatic event in all of Old Testament history, with its extreme human suffering, devastation of the ancient city, national humiliation, and the undermining of all that was thought to be theologically guaranteed like the Davidic monarchy, the city of Zion, and the temple of God of Israel. It is out of that unspeakable pain that Lamentations speaks in poetry of astonishing beauty and intricacy, though soaked in tears.
If we neglect this book, says Christopher J.H. Wright, we miss the challenge and reward of wrestling with the massive theological issues that permeate it. How can suffering be endured alongside faith in an all-loving, good God? Even if these events are recognized and accepted as God’s judgment, has not the flood of brutality and evil gone beyond all bounds? If anarchy, death, and destruction stalk the land, can the center of Israel’s faith in the covenant God of faithfulness and mercy hold? He shows that as Christian readers we must not, and cannot, isolate Lamentations from the rest of the Bible, and, equally, that we should not read the rest of the Bible without Lamentations. We must still let it speak for itself as a book for today.
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“But call to mind feels a little too weak. The Man says (Heb.) ‘This I cause to return to my heart’. The heart in Hebrew is the seat not so much of the emotions as of the mind and will. The Man does not just happen to remember something. He makes it come back into his conscious thinking, so as to change his whole perspective. This is something he knows that he knows, and he knows that he needs to get it back into his thinking right now. Sometimes it takes a very emphatic act of will to remember what we already know, when everything in our present experience threatens to deny it and overwhelm us.” (Page 111)
“Further strengthening the centrality of chapter 3 is the fact that right at the centre of that chapter—that is, at the apparent centre of the book as a whole—come the strongest words of positive hope and theological affirmation that the book can muster (3:31–33, preceded, of course, by the famous lines of 3:22–24).” (Page 33)
“There is one voice we never hear. God does not speak in the whole book of Lamentations.11 Heaven is silent. Which does not necessarily mean that heaven is deaf or blind. We shall consider later what Kathleen O’Connor calls ‘the power of the missing voice’.” (Page 33)
“God has become the only one who can rescue him from his enemies. God is no longer portrayed as the enemy, but as the champion defender and redeemer. You can vent your anger and grief at him, but in the end you have to trust him. There is no other.” (Page 125)
“It is the deliberate, determined, teeth-gritting decision to call something to mind. It is an action of the will, not a reaction of the emotions. It is a conscious and difficult choice: ‘I will think about this.’” (Pages 110–111)
Christopher J. H. Wright (PhD, Cambridge) is international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, providing literature, scholarships, and preaching training for pastors in Majority World churches and seminaries. He has written many books including commentaries on Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel, The Mission of God, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, and Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. An ordained priest in the Church of England, Chris spent five years teaching the Old Testament at Union Biblical Seminary in India, and thirteen years as academic dean and then principal of All Nations Christian College, an international training center for cross-cultural mission in England. He was chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group from 2005-2011 and the chief architect of The Cape Town Commitment from the Third Lausanne Congress, 2010.