I am writing the Lamentations volume for the small pamphlets in the Bible Briefs series1 that Stephen Cook is editing. These pamphlets are intended to provide a short and (hopefully) stimulating introduction to the books of the Bible that will encourage the reader to then study the biblical text for themselves and perhaps move on to deeper study of the book in question. So, being 4 months late, I am finally getting around to polishing off my pamphlet on Lamentations. I thought I would share my opening paragraphs for your critique. Remember, the audience is Christian laity who likely do not know the book well (or at all) and the goal is to get them interested in reading on through the 2500 word pamphlet.
The Book of Lamentations is one of the smallest works in the Bible and yet it is one of the most powerful and enigmatic. Written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, Lamentations expresses the grief and disbelief of those who lived through the horror and yet still looked to their God. However it is not just an outpouring of emotion, the Book of Lamentations also contains a profound theological reflection and response to the problem of sin and suffering.
This incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking work is often overlooked in Christian study and is rarely read in the lectionary cycles, either in the Book of Common Prayer or the Revised Common Lectionary. Perhaps the passage best known to Christians comes from Lam. 3 which is read every Holy Saturday and is the basis of a famous hymn.
Lam. 3.22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
While this passage is a statement of the poet’s firm faith in God’s presence and his mercy it does not serve well as a summary of Lamentations. The final two verses are perhaps a better encapsulation of the tone and temperament of Lamentations.
Lam 5.21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure.
The five poems that make up the Book of Lamentations move constantly between the cry of anguish at the condition of Jerusalem and her people, to the fear that God may have finally rejected his people forever, and to the affirmation that the Lord is the one who has allowed this to happen and yet he may still have mercy on them if only they repent. It is perhaps this challenging content with its powerful emotions and accusations against God that have caused this little book to be so often overlooked in Christian tradition.
The emotions expressed within these poems are raw and dramatic. Written most likely by those who witnessed the atrocities recounted; the Book of Lamentations recounts the horrors of war and living in a city under siege and dares to call out to God asking him how, how could God possibly allow such a thing to occur to his people. Wars, hardships, and strife continue to this day and so the example of Lamentations and its nascent message of faith remains relevant to the community of faith today.
At which point we dive into date, authorship, etc. So, what do you think? Engaging enough? Too
- Makes me think of underwear with little black Bibles all over them. Sorry about that. Now you won’t be able to clear your mind of the image. Watch, you will snicker when you read “briefs” in this post. [↩]