The Prophet’s Answer to Life’s Great Question: A Few Brief Thoughts on Jeremiah’s Lamentation
There is a troubling accusation that is often raised by those who would question the heart of God:
“How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
The fundamental problem with this question is the assumption that there are, indeed, “good people.” Scripture teaches us that there are none righteous (Ps. 14:1, Ro. 3:10), and that those good deeds which sinful men perceive as righteousness are nothing more than filthy rags in the eyes of God (Is. 64:6). To think that there are any inherently “good people,” is to subscribe to a pattern of thinking that flies in the face of Scripture. However, this line of questioning is to be expected from the minds and hearts of sinners. It is deceptively prideful, and it elevates the goodness of man out of the pit of sin and into the vicinity of God’s holiness. Only by the process whereby God’s Holy Spirit convicts our hearts of sin, do we begin to understand the aspect of God’s Personality that we should be questioning instead:
“How can an holy God provide good things for bad people?”
Whenever I think about bad things happening to “good people,” my mind wanders back to Jeremiah’s Lamentation. If there was ever a man whose own heart yearned after the heart of His God, it was him; and yet, he was made to grieve over the destruction of his beloved homeland at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. As he sat alone in that Damascus cave and penned his dirge for Israel, he described in chapter 3 his travail at the hands of God. His description is heart-rending, and one is forced to think, “How could any man serve a God who did those things?”
But then, just after Jeremiah tells us that all his hope had perished because of God’s dealings with him, he stops. He recalls to his mind some of the most poignant words that a prophet ever recorded: “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness…. the LORD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” (verses 22-23, 25-26)
It is a true statement that so-called “good people” do not deserve to suffer through the horrors of war, the terrors of natural disasters, or the heartbreak of sickness and suffering. The truth of the matter is, that we deserve infinitely worse. We deserve to be consumed by God’s holy wrath. But we’re not. The sun rises, the rain falls, and God continues to hold the universe together. But what’s more, He has provided an escape from the judgment of sin that every man and woman so desperately deserves.
The question that we should be asking – “How can an holy God give good things to bad people?” – is not a question of whether God is good to the evil; we know that God’s grace toward sinners is the very heartbeat of the Gospel message. Instead, it is a question that is borne from the humble realization that there is no good thing within me – that I am not a “good person,” but a “bad person.” It stands in awe of God’s unmerited favor, and it marvels at a love that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I was at once the enemy of God (Ro. 5:8-10), yet he chooses to deal mercifully with me.
My soul is humbled to think that there is mercy for me, because there was no mercy for Christ. Very God was torn apart from Very God, when the billows of God’s intolerable wrath poured out from Heaven and onto the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. There is no tragedy that has been wrought by nature’s fury or man’s depravity that could ever compare to the anguish of Christ at Calvary. And no words can express how much I deserved to hang on that cross.
But Jesus doesn’t end on a cross. If He did, then there would truly be “no hope.” Jesus rose up from the grave, but He doesn’t end with a resurrection from the dead. This miraculous life, as created by a loving God, has no end. Jesus eternally continues. And today, He is in Heaven, where He prays for those who have been restored to grace and reconciled to the Father through His sacrifice and resurrection. Therefore, even in the midst of unspeakable suffering, I have hope: Jesus lives.
God is always showing mercy, even amidst the terrible display of his wrath: that was Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel. That is the Holy Spirit’s message to the hearts of those who will believe. And that must be our message to the world.
© 2010 Jeremy Austin Watts