Jeremiah turned from contemplating his misery to remembering God’s mercy in chapter 3. He still experienced pain and sorrow, but he also called to mind the faithfulness of the Lord, and this gave him hope.
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22-24 (NIV)
Max Lucado tells the story of being dropped by his insurance company because he had one too many speeding tickets and a minor fender bender that wasn’t his fault. He received a letter in the mail, informing him to seek coverage elsewhere. As he reflected on how he wasn’t good enough for his insurance company he saw the spiritual tie-in. He writes, “Many people fear receiving such a letter [from God]. Some worry they already have.” Lucado then imagines this correspondence, straight from “The Pearly Gates Underwriting Division:”
“Dear Mr. Smith,
I’m writing in response to this morning’s request for forgiveness. I’m sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins. Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed—and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance. Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20 percentile and you have excessive tendencies to gossip. Because of your sins you are a high-risk candidate for Heaven. You must understand that grace has its limits. Jesus sends His regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage.
Angel in charge of Fire Insurance
We’ll never get a letter like that! As Jeremiah puts it, “God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” The English word for “new” in this verse is the Hebrew word “hadas.” It would be translated, “never before experienced.”
God is using Jeremiah to remind us that His mercies—His compassions—His blessings—are always literally NEW. Today’s mercy is different from yesterday or the day before or the day before the day before. Mark Batterson writes, “Just as the seasonal flu vaccine changes from year to year, God’s mercy changes from day to day. It’s a new strain of mercy. Why? Because you didn’t sin today the way you did yesterday!”
Try this little exercise: Figure out how old you are—not in years but in days. For example, today I am 19,539 days old. That’s the sum total of different kinds of “new every morning” mercy I’ve received in life—to-date. I’m sure it’s more than that—because I sin more than once a day. But sticking with the daily model, the time you’re twenty-one, you’ve experienced 7,665 unique mercies. When you hit midlife, it numbers 14,600. And by the time you are 65, God has mercied you at least 23,725 times. God is always faithful to forgive!
In Jeremiah’s darkest moment, his hope was strengthened with this assurance: God had been faithful and would continue to be faithful. Jeremiah saw both God’s judgment and God’s steadfast love. In the time of judgment, Jeremiah could still cling to God’s love, just as in times of prosperity he had warned of God’s judgment.
Jeremiah knew from personal experience about God’s faithfulness. God had promised that punishment would follow disobedience, and it did. But God also had promised future restoration and blessing, and Jeremiah knew that God would keep that promise also. Trusting in God’s faithfulness day by day makes us confident in his great promises for the future.
In the 1950’s, a professor at Johns Hopkins University named Curt Richter conducted a series of experiments—and like many researchers he used rats as his test subjects. First, Richter took a dozen domesticated rats, put them into huge jars of water—and basically watched them drown. I know this sounds cruel—but he was trying to discover how long it would take—how long the furry—but friendly—vermin would swim before they gave up. And they did fairly well. Some swam for days before they gave up and sank to the bottom.
For the next part of his rat research, Richter took wild rats—taken straight from the sewers of Baltimore. One by one he dropped each furry but fierce rodent into the water-filled jars—and unlike their tame predecessors—they died very quickly—within minutes. Richter wondered why.
These sewer rats were supposedly renowned for their swimming ability. He theorized that the answer was a lack of hope. He thought that perhaps the domesticated rats had learned to expect to be cared for—which fostered hope of rescue in their tiny brains. Perhaps this kept them going when the wild ones—who had never experienced that kind of care—gave up.
He wrote, “The situation of these rats scarcely seems one demanding fight or flight—it is rather one of hopelessness. These wild rats are in a situation against which they have no defense and no escape. They seem literally to ‘give up.’”
Richter decided to test his hypothesis. He took more wild rats—one at a time—and put them in one of the jars. But, just before the rat was about to drown, he picked it up, held it a little while, and then put it back in the water. Well, this small interlude made a huge difference. This time each of the wild rats could swim and swim! He decided that this proved his hypothesis. He said—when these wild rodents learned that they were not doomed, that the situation was not lost, that there might be a helping hand at the ready—that there was hope—they would keep going.
They would not give up, and they would not go under. At the conclusion of his experiment Richter wrote, “With the elimination of hopelessness, the rats do not die.”
I’m not saying you and I are rats—but like these furry little sewer dwellers, in order to keep going in this fearful world—to keep our heads above the water when the storms of life are raging—we need hope. We need something to cling to. We need a reason to keep “swimming”—something or someone has to motivate us to keep going.
I read a report from National Geographic magazine that says:
Humans can survive for just 2 to 3 minutes without air.
Humans can survive for up to 7 days without water.
Humans can survive for about 45 days without food.
But studies like Richter’s point to the fact that we all go down very quickly without hope.
As someone once put it, “Hope is the oxygen of the soul.” Hope is what we cling to when hurricanes come ashore destroying everything in their path or when doctors give us fearful diagnoses. Hope is what keeps us going when a friend of family member dies—and when job layoffs come our way.
Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”— Jeremiah learned this principle. He had been through horrible trials. I imagine his life felt like the experience of those last set of rats. Time and time again things got so bad he felt like he was going under, and time and time again God lifted him up and gave him hope.
May God’s faithfulness and mercy give us hope as well.
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