I was in the shower Sunday morning preparing to leave to go preach when I realized there were probably multiple angles to cover and effectively apply the text I was to preach a few short hours later.
For many people my age, and even younger (I am 29 going on 30 in two months), singleness is an issue. With varying degrees of connectivity, being single in this generation feels like being in exile, like God has destroyed life, and there is no one, not even God Himself, to bring comfort (Lamentations 1).
I cannot guess that this is how each and every single person feels about their state. I go in and out. At times I feel like I’ll die if I have to go another day as a single person. At other times, I can genuinely say I’m content.
I can only assume most people have similar experiences.
But one thing was clear as I meditated on this passage I was about to preach: I hadn’t fully applied it to myself yet. It speaks to this too often felt reality that waiting as a form of suffering feels like the end. It feels like God has completely forgotten me. It feels like waiting will just leave me in the same place I am now: alone, lonely, and single.
Why not do something about it? Why not just hook up with the first person who shows interest? Who would even know? Or even if they knew, who would care? Would it really be the worst thing ever?
Of course nowhere in the Bible would this sort of reasoning be acceptable? Yet, if we really allow ourselves to step into the scene Jeremiah shows us in the Book of Lamentations, this sort of thinking makes sense.
In context, the people of God have been exiled, the land destroyed, and Jeremiah is left to assess the damage. At the beginning of Lamentations 3, Jeremiah has had it. He is done. He cannot take anymore. He is tired of the loneliness he feels. He is tired of God not comforting him. All the suffering and pain has added up and there is literally nothing more he can handle.
By Lamentations 3:20, we as the reader are left thinking either Jeremiah is going to commit suicide, have a nervous breakdown, or God is going to do something miraculous to resuscitate his hope. Interestingly, God does nothing. God doesn’t show up anywhere.
In fact, nowhere in the Book of Lamentations does God speak directly. And there is never even a point where God actually comes to comfort Jeremiah. In the only place in this series of poems where God seems to show up (Lamentations 3:56-58), Jeremiah is actually praying back the Psalms and other redemptive history to himself.
After a brief section where Jeremiah reminds himself of the Lord’s faithfulness (Lamenations 3:22-24), the prophet mentions, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for salvation.” When he does this, Jeremiah is saying, in essence, waiting is producing something within me.
As he makes his way through this section, he points to God’s goodness, compassion, and steadfast love (Lam 3:31-33); the people’s failure to do justice (Lam 3:34-36); and the fact sinners ultimately have no right to complain about their punishment to a perfectly Holy and sovereign God (Lam 3:37-39).
In other words, in response to why a sufferer must wait on the Lord, Jeremiah’s response is God doesn’t want the person to suffer, but it is of their own doing, and they have no right to complain about it.
As I said in the sermon on Sunday, if God wanted to remove your guilt and the stain of your sin five seconds after you committed said sin, He could. But there is a reason He usually does not. You need to wade through the waters of the suffering, hurt and pain caused by your disobedience.
Of course, this whole section is ultimately about the corporate people of God, so this all takes on a communal element, even before it has application to an individual. But it applies to the single guy or girl who is tired of being single and wants a spouse, someone to share their life with.
Much as Israel wasn’t thrown into exile because of that particular generation’s obedience, but instead because of that of their father’s, a single person may not be going through discipline for his or her own sin.
The discipline of the sovereign God upon your life as a single person may be for countless reasons. But it is ultimately because of a corporate and familial sin issue. It is because God is doing something larger.
Jeremiah follows up his assertion that it is not right for a sinner to complain about his punishment by assessing what Israel ought to do next. He concludes, “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to the heavens (Lam 3:40-41).” Amen. Let us corporately, and individually, lift up our hearts and hands to God.
Let us return to Him. Let us use our singleness, our waiting, to do what is intended for this time, to wait on God himself.
Now the key, and something I left out in the sermon, is what it means to “wait”. Is it merely to kind of hope and have dreams and desires, but do nothing about them?
To wait, as Jeremiah is using it here, is to wait expectantly, to take all our cares and concerns to the God who IS there to comfort us, who hears our prayers, who counts our tossings and wanderings and stores our tears in a jar (Psalm 56:8).
It is to believe with all our heart, soul and strength that our God is for us, even when we don’t feel like it. It is to know that our singleness is not something to be downplayed.
It is to know that Jeremiah’s tears in verses 48 and 49 are as much for the lonely single person as they were for Israel. It is to know that God ultimately responded to those tears by sending His own Son to take away the suffering of His people.
It is to say that in this life, yes, all people will suffer. Some, unfortunately more than others. All will face trials in this life which work against their flesh and force them to maneuver in new and uncomfortable ways.
No one is guaranteed to get what they want. But ultimately waiting is for the good of God’s people, because there will be a day when there will be no more waiting. In that day, neither will there be any mourning, crying or pain and death will be no more (Revelation 21:4).
The waiting we find in Lamentations 3 is not a triumphalistic sort of waiting. It is a waiting authored by the God of the Bible, which produces Christ-like love and compassion. It ultimately produces the kind of tears Jeremiah saw flowing from his eyes in 3:48-49.
The call to the single Christian is not to focus on when they can find a person who completes them, or when they can get married. It is to bring their desperation and whole hearts to God, to get on their knees, literally and figuratively, and wait.
Wait for God. He will eventually come to comfort you. That is your promise in this life single person. He will eventually come to comfort you, according to the abundance of His steadfast love (Lamentations 3:31-32). He comes to you in Jesus, one part of Himself. He comforts you.