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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beyond Despair

The nation Judah had turned her back on God by failing to observe His Sabbaths and by refusing to worship Him exclusively. As punishment, God allowed the Babylonians to invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem, level the Temple, and drag thousands of Jews into captivity. The prophet Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations, meaning “funeral songs,” to express his deep sorrow over these dismal events. Not surprisingly, the first verse of Lamentations bemoans: “How deserted lies the city [Jerusalem], once so full of people! How like a widow she is, who once was great among the nations! She who was a queen among the provinces has now become a slave.”

What seemed like absolute despair in Jeremiah’s heart turned to hope when he looked beyond his nation’s decline and caught a glimpse of God’s faithfulness. He exclaimed: “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23). He recognized that God’s faithfulness extended far beyond Jerusalem’s calamity. There was hope for all who patiently waited for God to turn things around (verses 24–26).

Is the United States in decline? Many pundits predict imminent disaster, and our enemies are eager to expedite it. Although our nation cannot claim a covenant relationship with God, it has a long history of Christian character and influence. As a nation, we have seen ample evidence that “righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34a), but recently we have also seen righteousness decline. Are we, therefore, preparing the way for disaster?

When the king of Nineveh learned from the prophet Jonah that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days, he issued a wise decree: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:8, 9). In response to the decree, the Ninevites repented, and God withheld His judgment.

There is hope now as there was then. God’s faithfulness, compassion, love, and forgiveness lie just beyond despair, both for individuals and nations.