Have you ever been driving down the road, with your jams going, thinking you’re obeying the laws of the land and then seen those flashing lights and hear a “whoop whoop” behind you? When the officer approaches the car, you’re baffled! You thought you were going the speed limit (ok, actually had your cruise set just a couple of miles over), only to find out the speed limit was 45 and not 55? And then, when you find out what the law was, you’re hoping, praying, for no ticket? When you got off with a warning, you are grateful for the grace shown by the officer. Grateful for the opportunity to correct your ways and obey the law. Grateful that a punishment wasn’t served.
In that moment, you didn’t even know you needed grace. Before you knew you needed saved from the consequences of transgressing the law, you had to know that you had transgressed the law. You had to be convicted of your transgression.
It’s that way with sin too.
Many understand grace as God’s assistance or comfort in times of trial or need. But salvation requires more than a warm smile from the Divine. A basic prerequisite is the necessity for a person to realize that one stands in need as a sinner before God. Unless a person recognizes that condition, there is no real hope for salvation. When we don’t recognize sin as a basic reality in our lives, the message of God’s salvation falls on deaf ears. (NRSV Wesley Study Bible, notes on Lamentations 3, “Wesleyan Core Term: Convincing Grace,” pg. 978)
It was that way for the ancient Jewish people. God’s message through the prophets had fallen on deaf ears. They were reminded of their covenant as God’s people. They were reminded of God’s ways of living. They were boldly told to stop committing spiritual adultery and to admit their guilt and to return to faithful worship of the one true God. (Read Jeremiah sometime.) The speed limit signs were up, they flashing electronic sign was put up that showed their actual speed but they still didn’t heed the call.
It wasn’t until they were conquered and destroyed that the ancient Jewish people really realized their need for repentance. Their need to turn from their own way of doing things to God’s way of doing things. Lamentations is an emotional record of the crying out after the destruction. It’s a poem. In Lamentations 3, the writer has been totally devastated and blames God for the destruction. He was warned. His people were warned. But God still got the blame.
And yet, in the deep of the destruction, in the length of the lament, the writer remembers.
My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; (Lamentations 3:20-21, NRSV)
Perhaps he learned it as a young boy in temple school. Perhaps he remembered a conversation with a friend. Perhaps he recalled the words of the nagging preacher.
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 3:22-24, NRSV)
I wonder if too often we’re like the early Jewish people. We see and hear warning signs all around us. We hear the Word of the Lord and brush it off if it doesn’t fit into what we think is a good way of doing things. We don’t take heed and instead, we ask God to bless us and our way of doing things and to change other people. What might happen though, if we allowed the work of the Holy Spirit to really open us up to the power of the Word of the Lord? Maybe we’ve heard those words from a Sunday School class. Maybe we’ve heard those words from a friend. Maybe we’ve heard those words from a nagging preacher.
I wonder sometimes, if we’re more like the person who goes to the doctor for a check up and hears “eat healthy, get some exercise and lose some weight.” We say “I know doctor, I know. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll do better.” But it’s not until we have a health crisis that we get scared straight right? And even then, we pray and want God to make it immediately better without the dedication and faithfulness to healthy eating and regular exercise that must also come with good health. Yep, sounds a little like the early Jewish people. I wonder how much that sounds like us? We hear the words, we brush them off and then when destruction comes we cry out “Why God?” and get angry and blame God for whatever has come.
Instead of needing a great event to shake us into faithfulness to God, what if we allowed the Holy Spirit to show us on a daily basis our need for God? What if we went to be each night, asking to be shown our sin and then resting in God’s faithfulness to us, despite that sin? What if we woke up each morning, asking for God to help us remember that we – and every person around us – is created in the image of God and then live accordingly?
What if we remembered that God will have compassion according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love? (v. 32)
What if we remembered that God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone? (v. 33)
What if we remembered to examine our ways and return to the Lord? (v. 40)
What if we remembered to lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven? (v. 41)
What if we remembered that God comes near when we call on God, telling us “Do not fear?” (v. 57)
It took the depth of destruction for the writer of Lamentations to be convinced of God’s faithfulness.
How will you be convinced of God’s faithfulness?