"For the Lord does not abandon anyone forever. Though He brings grief, He also shows compassion according to the greatness of His unfailing love. For He does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow." (Lamentations 3:31-33)

I remember a time when I was departing from the Atlanta airport on a rainy afternoon. It was raining 'cats and dogs' (as they say) and I was a bit apprehensive about taking off in such a storm. But I recall how quickly the plane rose up through the clouds and the bright brilliance of sunlight that met us all as we broke through and climbed above the storm. It was an incredibly beautiful sight - soaring above (and in some cases, in and among) towering white clouds which had appeared so dark and threatening down below. That experience routinely comes to my mind whenever I consider the pains and grief you and I often meet up with in the course of our earthly existence. It showed me that a slightly different perspective can easily help us to see the same difficulty or grief in a totally different light - and even become thankful for it.

The Prophet here offers enormously helpful insight into a very troublesome area of human existence by telling us something useful about the nature of our God. He wants us to understand that God is merciful even when He chooses to inflict pain. He is loving even when He chastens. He comforts us when we are discouraged lest we become casted down forever. If a burden is introduced into your life or mine, then so too is sustaining strength so that we might bear up under its load. Where sorrow is produced, a limit is set for its duration, much as the limit which God has placed upon the tide which swells up upon the shore, and when that sorrow has produced, in us, its end, then the day of gladness dawns. This is the kind of God we love and serve. Therefore, we take comfort in our grief, in life's calamities (harsh as they often are) for we understand that these hardships are never designed to shake the one who is held in the Father's hand. The heart which is stayed upon Jehovah, though it is dealt bitter blows, will prosper through the time of testing and will blossom and produce fruit in its season.

Jeremiah also wants us to see that God does not take joy or pleasure in our misery. He does not enjoy hurting us or causing us sorrow. It is not a scowling countenance that He seeks to produce in your life or in mine. Rather, it is precisely because He loves us, as His children, that He allows us to experience hardships and low points - that we should come to see the practical reality of His never-failing love. There awaits us, for sure, a day when all sorrows will be done away with and the tear will be wiped forever from our eye - but that day is not today. We must wait - and we must hope - and we must trust Him now, even now in the midst of our pain and suffering - that He knows best what we need even as He knows best what He has chosen to produce in us. Much as a Master Sculptor, God inflicts blows upon us to chip off what He deems to be superfluous to the life He seeks to create. Those blows hurt! -- But the end result is glorious!

But you may ask - 'How are we to survive and prosper in the day of suffering? - days when the grief is so strong you can hardly catch your breath?' Look back up at verses 22 and following of this same chapter. "The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!" In other words, Jeremiah urges us here to cling to the Lord through those dark times and to trust in His faithfulness. Perhaps the bitterness of the sorrow will not pass by as quickly as my plane soared up through those Georgia clouds on that stormy day - but it will pass - for God has only blessings ultimately planned for each of His children.

You know, I'd be remiss if I didn't also point out the danger of allowing a complaining and bitter spirit to rise up within us in times of suffering. It is all too easy to abandon our normal good opinions of God when we perceive Him as having failed us in life. It belies an attitude that we have come only to expect good things from the Lord and not bad - nice, warm and fuzzy blessings and not harsh, tearful, heartbreaking sorrow. Jeremiah warns against this sort of attitude when he reminds us of our sinfulness. He asks (v. 39); "Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?" The truth is that we deserve no good thing at all from God, but rather only His displeasure. It is a testimony of His goodness and grace that He chooses to show us kindness rather than anger. Ours, therefore, should only and always be a response of absolute thankfulness for everything He chooses to send our way - the ill along with the good - knowing that His ultimate end is our sanctification and blessedness in Christ.

What grief assaults your heart right now? What bitter disappointments serve as impediments to further advancement, making the road ahead of you seem impassible? Our God is able to sustain you, bear you up, and even make smooth the way before you. His shaping and correcting hand upon you, while heavy at times, is the very hand that also keeps you safe and leads you along His way. Look to Him! He will not abandon you forever.