Through Black Clouds: Meditations on Lamentations 3:21-24

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

In a book that lives up to its name, these verses stand out like lights on a dark night, like a sunset through the clouds.

We often find these famous verses plastered on Facebook walls, stitched onto pillows, or hanging in hallways in nicely-framed placards. While these are beautiful verses on their own, they are all the more beautiful when taken in their context.

The year is 586 B.C. Jeremiah, the un-heeded prophet of God, stands in the midst of a ruined city—his beloved Jerusalem. Through tear-filled eyes, he sees the once-glorious temple that is now little more than a heap of rocks. The ferocious Chaldeans have destroyed everything. Once-magnificent gates are now smoldering ash. The smell of death is in the air. Starvation and disease are rampant. Unburied and mutilated corpses lie rotting in the streets.  The few remaining people pick through the ruins in search of some scraps of food. A deathly silence hangs over the once bustling city.

Lest his grief overwhelm him, Jeremiah pens his pain in rigid poetic form. Each line he begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet, allowing him to plumb the depth of grief as he writes. For five chapters he pours out his endless pain.

Yet, somehow, in the midst of this unbreakable gloom, hope pierces through the black clouds of grief: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we not consumed,” he writes.

This is shockingly out of place. By all appearances, God’s people have been consumed! Their circumstances are the epitome of bleakness, yet Jeremiah has the audacity to say, “We are not consumed”?!

This is shocking, perplexing—even cruel—unless we understand what true grace is.

Grace is not the removal of pain.

Grace is not the restoration of former greatness.

Grace is not the promise of ease or prosperity.

Grace is not the ignoring of sin.

Rather, God’s grace is His unmerited favor toward undeserving sinners. Jeremiah uses the word Chesed, a reference to the covenant lovingkindness of God (a slightly different concept than “mercy” or “compassion”). It speaks less of His pity and more of His favor. Whereas mercy moves with compassion against the painful consequences of sin, grace moves with compassion against the root of sin itself. It is the closest equivalent of the New Testament charis (“grace”).  

The “consuming” that he refers to is what Judah, Jerusalem, Jeremiah, you, and me really deserve. There is something far worse than the physical destruction of Jerusalem—something far more terrifying: we deserve the unmixed wrath of God. For God to give us anything less is an amazing act of His compassion (Ephesians 2:4). It is a demonstration of His longsuffering to give us another breath with which to utter a prayer of repentance.

Jeremiah knew the depths of human depravity (Jeremiah 17:9), thus he was able to rejoice in the heights of divine grace. Just as a beautiful sunset is formed by sunlight piercing dark clouds, so God’s glorious character is seen as His character pierces through the clouds of sin with the light of grace.

Judah had “sinned grievously” (Lam. 1:8). God had judged her for the “multitude of her transgressions” (Lam. 1:5). All this grief Judah deserved. All this death Judah deserved. All this she deserved, and so much more! For God to still offer hope—what an act of grace! For Him to promise salvation from hell—what mercy!

Jeremiah rejoiced not only in these great heights of gracious mercy, but also in the great length of it: “his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Despite the enormous sin of Judah (and of you and me!), God’s compassion was (and is) limitless. So long as life exists, God gives space to repent. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” There is no sin too great for God not to forgive. God’s gracious mercy is as dependable as God is. The God who is infinite offers grace that is infinite. The God who is eternal offers grace that is eternal. Indeed, His grace is so vast that eternal life exists to praise it (Ephesians 2:7)!

Where is this gracious mercy to be found? Where can you and I find a rock of hope that will stand even in the rubble of crumbling circumstances? Jeremiah rejoiced in God’s gracious mercy, for it pointed Him to the Great Source of it. “The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.” The grace of God is designed to point us to the all-sufficient God of grace. We rightfully rejoice in grace, but the ultimate object of our praise is not an attribute of God, but God Himself. It’s all about a soul-satisfying relationship.

Grace is found only in God through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is demonstrated through His loving death on the cross, where He gave “his cheek to him that smiteth him” for us (Lam. 3:30). Grace is offered to all who will repent and believe.

Armed with such a view of grace—grace that is high, grace that is long, grace that is divine—we can look any circumstance in the face and say, “This is better than I deserve.”


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