Earlier in the week my copy of “The Briefing” plopped through the letterbox. Rob Smith’s excellent article “What Job and Jesus teach us about suffering” reminded me of an experience that has helped me as I’ve pondered a text buried deep in the book of Lamentations. He writes about holding down his infant son so that an IV line could be inserted in his arm. I can remember doing that too.
When Joel, my son was approaching two years old he was admitted to hospital with Pneumonia. With hindsight it was evident that he had been fighting an infection for a while, and it had flared up suddenly leaving him very sick indeed. I can remember that at the hospital it was decided necessary to get an IV line into his arm in order to give him antibiotics. Even though he was quite poorly, there was no way that he was going to lie still and allow a doctor to put a big needle into a vein in his arm. I can remember that the medical staff asked me to hold him down, and I can remember that he put up quite a fight and screamed and cried. I can remember that as a father I found the whole experience quite disturbing.
That brings me to those texts in the book of Lamentations. The book is a cry of pain to God in the face of awful calamity. Judah and in particular Jerusalem has fallen to Babylonian armies who have left devastation in their wake.
Lamentations does not waver on the issue of who is responsible for such suffering. The reader is repeatedly reminded that it is the Lord himself who has brought affliction in judgement. This is a difficult issue for many modern Christians who come up with complex arguments to try and disconnect God from any responsibility for human suffering, and yet the writer of Lamentations repeatedly, and almost rhythmically insists that is is God who has done this. (For example see the use of “he” in Lamentations 3:1-18)
Lamentations also does not waver of the conviction that God is gracious and compassionate. Perhaps the vest known verses are found in Lamentations 3:21-23
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
And then buried in the end of the chapter comes this conviction:
“for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. ” Lam 3:33
Now here is the question that I have been pondering. If that is the case; that God does not willingly afflict or grieve that children of men, then how am I to understand displays of his severity and discipline? Now we must always proceed with fear and trembling when seeking answers to such questions. I’ve always felt that Job’s comforters serve to point out the inherent foolishness of simplistic answers to the problem of suffering. That said however, my memories of holding Joel down, have helped me, I hope to trust my heavenly father more faithfully.
You see when I held Joel down and the medical staff fought to get that IV line into him, he hated every minute because it hurt. He was frightened, and he had no insight to persuade him that what was happening was for his benefit. But here’s the thing; it wasn’t only him who hated every minute, I hated every minute too. I didn’t enjoy his screams and tears. I didn’t enjoy his distrustful glances. I loved my son and I would never willingly afflict or grieve him, but I knew that it was necessary, that it was for his benefit, indeed that his life might very well depend on it.
So thanks to Rob Smith for reminding me of that experience, and praise God for Lamentations 3:33 that reminds us of the Father’s love and faithfulness to his children.