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.
It might seem strange that a whole book of the Bible is devoted to tears, grief, despair, and the pouring out of woe. But here it is, the Old Testament book of Lamentations. It is the raw, honest expression of that complex of emotions called grief. It is written by the prophet Jeremiah, whose many lamentations and woes garnered him the title of “The Weeping Prophet”. Jeremiah is watching the horrific destruction of the nation’s capital of Jerusalem, its’ grinding into the ground by the Babylonians in 587 B. C. Picture the beheading and mutilating by ISIS terrorists today and you will have a sense of what is happening in Jeremiah’s Jerusalem.
Surprisingly, in the midst of calamity, we see Jeremiah pulling himself together to compose four elegant acrostic poems about his grief. In chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Lamentations each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, while in chapter 3 every three verses begin with a successive letter. This was a popular poetic device in ancient Near Eastern poetry. It is like Jeremiah is pouring out his grief from A to Z. He is clearly doing his grief work. He is not in denial about the loss to him and to his nation.
But then, after the necessary step of fully acknowledging his grief, Jeremiah thinks right thoughts. Jeremiah makes the decision to remember to “call to mind” what he knows is always true and never changes: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end,” This is the anchor he casts in the storm: “therefore I have hope.”
In this we are reminded of the importance to our Christian faith of calling to mind, or, remembering. Hebrew scholar Abraham Heschel emphasized the importance of remembering for the Hebrew people: “To us, recollection is a holy act: we sanctify the present by remembering the past. To us Jews, the essence of faith is memory. To believe is to remember” (Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays). I have a young friend who recently wrote a doctoral dissertation on the role of remembering in the Hebrew Scriptures. He told me something I find quite remarkable: for every time God commanded His people to have faith, He would command five times for them to remember. Remember God! Remember His faithfulness! Remember how He has always led you!
As Jeremiah stops to remember he is reassured that God’s “mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866 and described himself as “just an old shoe.” He went to a country school and was made a teacher when he was 16 years old. He believed in and started following Christ when he was 27, and with no college or seminary education was ordained to the Methodist ministry at 36. But after a brief, strenuous pastorate he had to retire because of poor health and later became an insurance agent. In a 1941 letter Chisholm sat down and called to mind, and remembered his life:
My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.
Remembering how he had experienced so “many wonderful displays” of God’s providing care Chisholm wanted to express it artistically. He then wrote a poem extolling God’s faithfulness based on today’s Scripture text. He called the poem “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and shared it with His friend William Runyan. It was his friend who set Chisholm’s word to music. Perhaps you know the first stanza of that hymn and its chorus;
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not:
As thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
In the midst of our daily rush, as well as in times of grief and inexplicable pain, it is always good to call to mind, to remember “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.” Yes! Great is Your faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Grace and peace,