The classic hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, has been cherished by many since its composition. Its chorus is based on Lamentations 3:22-23, verses that resound with abrupt hope in the midst of alarming affliction. The same section of Scripture has also earned the ink of innumerable highlighters and the captions of countless sunrises.
This collection of devotional delight from lamentations probably isn’t surprising. And the hymn loved by generations might not seem troubling. But our treatment of this passage may be problematic, serving as a glimpse into our tendency to look past despair to fixate on positivity.
When we do this, we don’t simply drown out sorrow. We also dilute hope.
The book of Lamentations can be unnerving at first. Each word penned by the poet shakes with agonizing tension. He brings the reader where few dare to venture, into the unsettling intersection of our suffering and God’s sovereignty. His vivid descriptions and visceral honesty defy our typical expressions of prayer and worship. In the verses leading up to the oft-quoted lines, the lamenter says that the Lord “turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces.” He continues, “I have forgotten what happiness is…my endurance has perished, so has my hope from the Lord.” Cries like this shudder throughout the entire book, apart from the popularized portions of chapter 3.
But you will wait in vain to sing such somber words on a Sunday. They join a host of grief-stricken lyrics that rarely make the journey from the Word into our worship.
At one level, this makes sense. We don’t need reminders that we live in a broken world. We grasp for hope that can sustain us through life’s difficulties, so we call out the promises about God’s faithfulness, goodness, and deliverance.
But the assurance we long for comes through honest wrestling, not despite it. A summit is only a peak because of its surrounding valleys. If we ignore the depths of sorrow, we’re in danger of having a flat faith. However, when we ask our questions, express our pain, and enduringly wait for the Lord to answer, the hope we can experience doesn’t need to push aside despair, it rises through it.