After Grief God Gives Relief

Text: Lamentations 3:22-33
Date: Pentecost V (Proper 8) + 7/1/12

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed
In ev’ry need
Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, then, I will yield me.

Words of faith sung in the conviction of faith, faith in a gracious God who has become our merciful Father in our baptism of faith in Jesus Christ, who we firmly believe not only provides us with everything we truly need in this earthly life but also has a plan and directs our lives working everything together for our eternal good. In our daily life the Christian usually most willingly says, “To Him, then, I will yield me.”

Yet there are those other days when we may doubt and question whether God is still our merciful Father and is indeed directing things for our good because of difficulties come our way, conflicts, frustrations and sin weighing heavy, robbing us not only of joy but even, it seems, of our very faith and confidence. In times of sickness, injury, suffering and mourning or despair over current events the fifth stanza of that hymn is given us to sing though it may be with halting breath and shaking voice:

What God ordains is always good:
Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief
God gives relief,

My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling. (LSB 760:1 & 5)

There are those times when we are tempted to sing not as a pillar of faith and boldness in the face of trouble but more because we question, is what God ordains always good? Is God somehow behind our times of suffering? How can a gracious God allow much less “ordain” difficulty and suffering? Yet faith, captivated by the Word of God wants to remind us, “After Grief God Gives Relief.”

The prophet Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” wrote the Lamentation poems while reflecting on God’s people taken captive in Babylon and Jerusalem lying in ruins. Right in the middle of the grief and misery expressed, however, the soul is called to rise up and see the Lord’s compassion even in the justice of His judgment and discover faith’s confident expectation of God’s help and deliverance. This anxiety and suffering become life-giving hope is expressed in today’s Gospel of the synagogue ruler’s daughter and the woman with a long-suffering hemorrhage. Though the little girl died she was raised back to life and the woman was healed because Jesus came to enter our suffering, pain and death in order to conquer it and thus save us all from God’s righteous judgment of our sin and deliver us to new life.

Jairus the synagogue ruler cried to Jesus, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her.” He must have seen a glimmer of hope as Jesus went with him. On the way the suffering woman hoped maybe superstitiously that just a tap or a touch of Jesus’ garment would bring healing. Jesus noticed. And it wasn’t until she came to Jesus in fearful and trembling repentance that she was truly healed. Then came the devastating, deflating news that the ruler’s daughter had died. Though it was too late and despair set in (“Why trouble the Teacher any further?”) Jesus countered saying, “Do not fear, only believe.” “Talitha cumi,” “Little girl arise.” She did. After grief God gives relief.

Jeremiah preached God’s judgment and mercy, Law and Gospel, that God means to meet us in our suffering, whether it be the result of sin of our own making or of the sin of others. He meets us with His just judgment of our sin and yet with a word of hope of deliverance from His wrath. It’s all part of the life of “faith and not sight” of this present age, of being condemned “sinner” by God and yet awarded “sainthood” at the same time.

Does God actually cause or send suffering? Something in us tells us “yes.” How many, when confronted with reversals or trouble, do not instinctively ask, “What did I do to deserve such punishment?” Many are offended when innocent life is taken from us saying, “she didn’t deserve to die.” The fallen sinner is right in concluding that God must punish sin. But the fallen sinner does not know that this same God also loves them. It doesn’t make any sense until we come to the knowledge of the truth revealed by God’s Word.

There, in God’s Word, the love of God is revealed. But as another hymn has us ask, “What kind of love is this? What kind of love is this?” It is the love, says Jeremiah, that sent a Savior who meets us and entered into and endured our loneliness in silence, who “put his mouth in the dust,” that is, humbled Himself beneath the mighty hand of God’s righteous judgment of us for us, and gave his cheek to those who struck Him and hurled insults at Him.
What kind of love is this?
What kind of love is this?
You showed Your love, Jesus, there
To me on Calvary.

For me You gave all Your love,
For me You suffered pain;
I find no words, nothing can
Your selflessness explain. (LSB 542)

God’s love cannot be explained unless and until “we behold Jesus Christ, true God who died for me.” Therefore, you see, it is faith, repentance and faith that is God’s power in us that we might rise up above our suffering to know and confess that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

This, says Jeremiah, is faith’s reason for hope: the Lord does not cast off forever. He says in Jeremiah 3, “Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever” (Jer 3:12). Secondly, we are to learn that the Lord’s compassion outweighs any and all sorrow. “For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal” (Job 5:18). Finally, God does not send affliction willingly, as if it brought Him joy, but merely because chastisement is necessary to sinful man for the sake of our spiritual growth. As St. Paul encouraged the Christians in Antioch, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). When writing to the Corinthians he reminded them, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).

It is by a faith alone captivated and guided by the Word of God that we can daily and at last sing even as we began:

What God ordains is always good:
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm,
For with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me. (LSB 760:6)