Life is hard . . . and God is good. This was the point John Piper made in his sermon, “Thank God for the Mercies of Christ,” preached on November 19, 2000, on Lamentations 3. Here’s what he said:
Lamentations 3. You may have a hard time finding it. It is a teeny little book sandwiched between Jeremiah, the big prophet, and Ezekiel. And it is a book that I do not expect many of you to know anything about, because it is so small and so tucked away there. It doesn’t get read very much. And one of the reasons it doesn’t is because it is such a horrible book — because it is so shot through with horrific pictures of the judgment of God upon Jerusalem.
Jeremiah wrote this little book as Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BC and the pictures of destruction are terrible; loss of life, starvation through siege. But — and here is the amazing thing — in the middle of this five-chapter book, the middle chapter comes with some of the sweetest, most precious words that God has ever put in the mouth of a prophet to tell to his people. And those are the ones I want to read, because they have a special punch when you realize where they are.
Verses 21–25 of chapter 3 in Lamentations go like this: “This I recall to mind and therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. His compassions [or his mercies] never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him.”
Now that should boggle your mind, because those precious words, especially the words “his mercies are new every morning” are spoken in a situation that was horrific in its suffering. The afflictions, the devastation: Parents were eating their children, they were so hungry. And the siege was so horrible. How do these words get into that book? And as a partial explanation, I want to read two more verses. Drop your eyes down to verses 32–33. “For if he [meaning God] if he causes grief, then he will have compassion according to his abundant lovingkindness. For he does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men.”
Now the very least we can draw out of those verses is this: The mercies of God are often hidden and hard to see while they are happening, because it says he does cause grief and he does afflict. And yet it says there is a merciful purpose in it all. And it is not coming from the bottom of his heart. He does not willingly afflict the sons of man. There are purposes for his affliction. It is not the thing he delights most to do and yet he does it. And if we will trust him, there are mercies hidden there for us.
It is just like the book of Job. You know the story of Job. He lost everything he had. He lost 10 of his children — all of them. He lost all of his possessions. He lost all of his health. And James, Jesus’s brother, thousands of years later in his little book called James writes in 5:11 this interpretation of that book. He says, “You have heard the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” So there is the point of the book of Job, according to James. He lost all of his children. He lost all of his health. He lost his possessions and this text says the purpose of the Lord was compassionate and merciful.
So if we will trust him, that is the meaning of the destruction of Jerusalem. That is the meaning of the loss of his health. And I don’t know where you are this morning, but if you will trust God, mercy is in your life right now. It is all over your life — mercy and a design, a compassionate design. If you will trust God and hold on to him for that mercy, it will show itself sooner or later.
We could say it in the words of Susan Shelley, Marshall Shelley’s wife. Marshall Shelley is one of the editors for Christianity Today. On November 22, 1991, a few days before Thanksgiving, at 8:20 PM, their son was born. And at 8:22, two minutes later, he died. Marshall wrote an article in CT about it four years later called, “Two Minutes to Eternity,” a magnificent article. The nurse standing over her holding her dead baby said, “Does the baby have a name?” And she said, “Toby. It is short for a biblical name Tobiah, which means ‘God is good.’”
And when Marshall came to speak to the Wheaton alumni a few years ago down at Wheaton and told this story, he said, at the end of his talk, summing it all up, “Life is hard and God is good. Life is hard and God is good.” That is the meaning of Lamentations. That is the meaning of Job. You might say that is the meaning of the Bible. Life is hard and God is good. And many of you are right in the midst of proving it to be so now. At least if you would trust him, if I could persuade you this morning that God is trustworthy in it, and if you held on to it, you would discover that life is hard and God is good.
O, that God this morning would give us eyes to see his mercies in our lives and we would see them all the more clearly and know that they were mercies if we knew the price that he paid for them for us. He sent his son Jesus Christ into the world to die so that my guilt will be taken away, his wrath would be removed from me, and there would be a free, open course for his mercies to flow to me while he is just. Even though I am a sinner, I can be treated with mercy. That is a glorious thing that God has done in Jesus Christ. And we would taste the mercies all the more sweetly if we knew the price.