Hope arrives as we tell ourselves the truth about God. This is the lesson we learn from Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:22-24.
(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. (24) “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
In these verses I want you to notice four truths about God that lead to unshakeable hope.
First, Jeremiah reminds himself that God is gracious. Those two words “steadfast love” in the ESV are just one word in the original language. It’s the Hebrew word chesed. That word is used some 250 times in the Old Testament to describe God’s covenant-keeping love towards His people. One way to think of it is the Old Testament equivalent for the New testament concept of grace.[i] Wayne Grudem defines grace as “God’s goodness towards those who deserve only punishment.”[ii]
Theologians sometimes talk about two types of grace. There’s common grace, which refers to the goodness that is common to everyone. Jesus illustrates this in Matthew 5:45, when He says that the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” You don’t have to be a Christian to get a stimulus check, to enjoy a good cup of coffee, or to experience the joy of genuine love and intimacy. Those gifts of grace are common and available to everyone.
But there’s another type of grace that theologians sometimes call special grace. This is the grace of relationship. This is the grace of covenant. It’s chesed grace. It’s the grace of steadfast love. It’s the grace that God shows to His people. As Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in her best-selling Jesus Storybook Bible, God loves His people with a "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”[iii]
If you belong to Jesus, this grace belongs to you. This steadfast love will never give up on you because it’s covenant grace. Think about that for just a moment. Judah had given herself over to wickedness. She had been warned for hundreds of years to repent. She is, by any standards, unequivocally guilty! And yet, God’s steadfast love towards His undeserving people has no end! But Jeremiah’s not done telling himself the truth about God.
Next, Jeremiah reminds himself that God’s mercies are infinite and they’re new every morning. Look again beginning in verse 22: his mercies never come to an end; (23) they are new every morning.
Wayne Grudem defines mercy as “God’s goodness toward those in misery and distress.”[iv] Often we are like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. We tend to move away from people in misery and distress. We roll up our windows when we see them on the side of the road. We screen their calls. We walk the other way when we see them in the hallway. We ignore their cries for help.
But God is not like that. He is merciful. He moves toward people in misery and distress. He sees our limited ability to comfort one another in a world of social distancing. He sees our layoffs, furloughs, and business closures. He sees this unseen virus plaguing the world. He sees our cancer. Our depression. Our panic attacks. Our chronic pain. Our addictions. Our grief. And He moves toward us in our misery because He is merciful.
Now why does Jeremiah say that God’s mercies are “new every morning”? Are mercies like manna, unable to last through the night? Do they lose their carbonation, like an opened can of Coke left in the refrigerator? It is not some deficiency in God’s mercy that necessitates their newness every morning. It is not mercy that needs newness, it is us. Every day we encounter a new set of miseries, a new list of reasons for mercy. And every day, for the covenant people of God, His mercies are available. Perfectly matched with every one of our needs. Isn’t this the antidote to worry? What is worry but an attempt to solve tomorrow’s problems with today’s mercies? Christian, God is merciful. He knows how to supply you with the right mercy at the right time. But Jeremiah’s not done telling himself the truth about God.
Jeremiah continues in verse 23: “great is Your faithfulness.” As Mark Vroegop puts it in Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, “The ultimate hope for God’s people is God’s ability to keep being God.”[v] It’s comforting to know that God is gracious and merciful, but here’s a terrifying thought: what if God changes?
Your kids change. That sweet little girl grew into a moody teenager. That compliant boy turned into a rebellious college student. Your spouse changes. He used to be so romantic and thoughtful, but now he’s a lazy lover. She used to be so spontaneous and exciting, but now she’s boring. Even if you’re able to navigate life from youth to adulthood without changing much . . . old age will change you. Your body will sag and creak. Even more tragically, your mind may fade. One of the saddest things I ever experienced was watching my grandfather slowly lose his mind to Alzheimer’s disease. He changed, and he didn’t even get a say in the matter.
What if God changes? You say, “Well of course God won’t change!” Okay. “How do you know?” You might respond, “I know He won’t change because He says that He won’t.” That’s absolutely true. And that’s what Jeremiah is banking on. He’s trusting in God’s Word, that He is faithful! That He won’t change!
But the truth is, sometimes people tell us they won’t change and yet they do. I’ve watched my kids promise their mom that they’d never grow up. And yet they are. And they’re changing in the process. I’ve seen husbands and wives promise unchanging love to one another. And I’ve watched them change anyways. The painful truth is, often people promise never to change and yet they are powerless to keep their promises.
That’s where we can hope with a hope even greater than Jeremiah. We have not only God’s promise that He is faithful. We have a picture of His faithfulness. On the cross God showed us how committed He was to never changing, to always being faithful. “This is how much I am willing to pay to make you mine.” There Jesus died, not as a victim but as a willing substitute. There He bore the wrath of God in our place. And if God didn’t change His plans or change His mind at the shadow of the cross, He won’t ever change. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
[i] Eric Kress and Paul Tautges, Discipline of Mercy, 99
[ii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1243.
[iii] Sally-Lloyd Jones, Jesus Storybook Bible
[iv] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1247.
[v] Mark Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, 112