For all these things I weep;
tears flow down my cheeks.
No one is here to comfort me;
any who might encourage me are far away.
Lamentations 1:16 (NLT)
Jeremiah, traditionally believed to have written this song/poem of lamentation, is widely known through history as “the weeping prophet.” Across the panacea of ancient prophets, Jeremiah got among the toughest of prophetic gigs. He was called upon to tell the people of Jerusalem that they’d better straighten up or God was going to send the Babylonians to destroy them. No one wanted to hear his message. For his efforts, he was persecuted by his own people and thrown into a well as punishment. When his prophecies came true Jeremiah appears to have been given the job of correspondent to record for posterity’s sake the fulfillment of his own words of doom.
And what a doom it was. We tend to think of sieges and ancient wars in PG-13 rated, Hollywood-like mental images. Even in today’s world we at home view war as a sort distant video-game taking place on the other side of the world. We have the Geneva convention and international treaties to ensure that the nastiest of war crimes are avoided. We naively believe that they are a thing of the past. But, in Jeremiah’s day there were no international laws. There was no expectation that war would be carried out in a human way. In fact, victory in Jeremiah’s day went to the most powerful army who could utterly destroy enemies in the nastiest ways: Starve people until they are forced to eat the flesh of their dead family members. Burn the place to the ground, rape the women and little ones. Let your soldiers pillage the place and take whatever they can find. Hack off body parts and leave them in giant festering piles outside the city as a calling card that you were there. Take the best of the young ones as slaves and concubines, but kill all the rest in nasty ways so that you don’t leave anyone with a thought for revenge.
And, in the middle of this carnage is a little old man who foresaw it all and was unable to prevent it from happening. It is no wonder he is weeping as he pens his song of lament. Talk about having the blues.
Today, I’m soberly reminded that God does not promise us a life of luxury and ease. God is not an antidote for tragedy and suffering. In fact, God’s Message makes it clear that there are certain depths of character and spiritual maturity that can only be attained through suffering. Jeremiah weeping as he witnesses the cannibalism and carnage in Jerusalem is a case in point.
Truth is not always easy, but being difficult does not make it less true.