By Erika Catiz Burt
Lectionary reading for 4/8/2023: Job 14:1-14; Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; 1 Peter 4:1-8; Matthew 27:57-66; John 19:38-42
Selected passage: 3:1-9; 19-24
Lamentations 3:1-9; 19-24, The New King James Version
1 I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of His wrath. 2 He has led me and made me walk In darkness and not in light. 3 Surely, He has turned His hand against me Time and time again throughout the day.
4 He has aged my flesh and my skin, And broken my bones. 5 He has besieged me And surrounded me with bitterness and woe. 6 He has set me in dark places Like the dead of long ago.
7 He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy. 8 Even when I cry and shout,
He shuts out my prayer. 9 He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
He has made my paths crooked.
19 Remember my affliction and roaming, The wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul still remembers And sinks within me. 21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.
22 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
Hope in the Hard Place
Having “Hope in the Hard Place” seems a bit oxymoronic when you think about it. How can one feel the walls closing in on her and still manage to have hope? Lamentations 3:1-9;19-24 provides insight. In this text, the prophet Jeremiah is filled with agony and despair over the trouble the people of God have gotten themselves into by their disobedience, and he feels like God is out to get him and the everyone else. Have you ever felt like that? No? Maybe you can visualize Jeremiah’s anxiety this way: imagine walking down a dark street at night and hearing strange, startling noises, wondering who or what was lurking nearby. If you are like me, you’re probably going to take off running. Now imagine the threat is real; there is nowhere to run, and enemies are coming at you. This is how Jeremiah felt except God was acting like an enemy (vv. 1-9). Have you been there? Maybe right now you are trying to figure out what you have done to cause the pain you are experiencing. Perhaps you are wondering why every time you think you see the light at the end of the tunnel it turns out to be an on-coming train. There have certainly been times in my life when I wondered if our loving God was trying to kill me through my circumstances. Like Jeremiah we have all rehearsed the pain of our circumstances. Sometimes we rehearse it so much we no longer hear God’s voice but only the voice of the enemy and our own depression. All of us can fall into pits of despair created by suffering, pain, grief, or even confusion. If you do fall in, the goal is to not stay there.
Jeremiah was in a pit of despair when he remembered the truth about our great God. He challenged the negative narrative playing in his mind by thinking about how merciful God is…morning by morning. Jeremiah recalled the truth to his mind, and he had hope (vs. 24)! In 2 Corinthians 10 we are told to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. This not only addresses intellectual arguments against the existence of God, but the dreadful thoughts that play over and over in our minds—thoughts from the enemy that are diametrically opposed to God’s character, His word, and His enduring active loving-kindness towards us. Many moons ago, during a wonderful time of devotion, I wrote a song about the Lord’s loving-kindness and mercy towards us and even stated that I wanted to know Christ through His suffering. It seemed super holy. Years later, I joked that, clearly, I needed to write a new song about blessings. I needed any and all pain to stop, but then I remembered that I had a Great High Priest who was familiar with suffering and endured it all to pay the price for our freedom in the here and now and life everlasting with Him. This I recalled to my mind, and I had hope!
Like Jeremiah, we have to remind ourselves—and one another—that God’s love and power are limitless. Even faced with troubling circumstances we have to say, “Wait a minute, because of Him, today I have grace and mercy, today I have breath in my lungs, today I have strength, today neither suffering nor my circumstances have consumed me, and I have a promise for tomorrow that is true for eternity”. This will help us to challenge despair, and take life one day at a time, or one breathe at time, no matter what we are facing. As the old folk say, “every day above ground is a good day”. May we understand that we have brand new mercies every day… morning by morning. Then we can have hope even in the hard place.
Join me in listening to the song “You’ve Been so Faithful” by Eddies James and the Phoenix Mass Choir, and let us make this song our collective prayer of thanksgiving.
Dear Jesus, we thank You for Your sacrifice on the cross that ensured us Your chesed, Your enduring active loving-kindness, towards us between the “now and not yet” and throughout eternity. This we recall to our minds, and we have hope: great is thy faithfulness! When we wake up every morning, regardless of our circumstances, help us to do as the lyrics of Lift Every Voice and Sing says. Help us to “sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us”. As we face the rising sun that comes with each new day, help us to remember that You are the reason we have hope in this life and the life to come.
About the Author
Erika (Erie) C. Burt, higher education leader and diversity in STEM champion, is a change agent with a passion for advancing educational equity and access for across technology fields. She leads large scale projects aimed at increasing the academic success rates of underserved student populations and for helping organizations become high-tech, high-touch, high-impact centers of excellence. She is a PhD candidate with research interest in leadership, educational equity, and policy creation. Erika has a MDiv from North Park Theological Seminary & a MAT in education. She is a DEI workshop trainer and presenter and a published author with works in theological journals and magazines. Erika is from the south side of Chicago. She is a member of the South Side Cluster Leadership Team for the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.