Not many things in life are consistent and constant. In fact, on the contrary, most things are changing on a regular basis, moment by moment -- the stock market, cultural trends, or our moods, just to name a few.
But not so with the sun. Every single morning, without fail, the sun rises. Whether the sky is cloudy or clear, the sun will eventually shed its light and turn the shadow of night into the luster of morning. The dawning of that great star is one of the few true constants of life. Even if its presence is veiled by fog or mist, we cannot escape its fiery, pulsing glory. If the sun did, for some horrific reason, fail to make its daily appearance in the east, we would have good cause for concern.
Present Despair, Steadfast Love
Because of its relentless consistency, the rising sun has often been used as a picture of faithfulness, of steadfastness -- as in the book of Lamentations.
Lamentations is a book that most certainly lives into its name. In the Septugiant, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the book of Lamentations was actually called Wailings -- an even more fitting title, in my humble opinion. Traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, it is a collection of five somber poems written to commemorate the siege and fall of Jerusalem at the merciless hands of Babylon. Lamentations is a funeral dirge which mourns the death and destruction of both the Judean people and their homeland.
But it is here, in the middle of this heartbreaking book, that one of the most breathtaking expressions of God’s love appears.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22–24, emphasis mine).
Somehow, in the midst of the gruesome reality all around him -- homes demolished and laid waste, young and old lying dead in the streets, famished children begging for food -- Jeremiah was able to reach into the depths of his memory and call to mind the unfailing love of God.
But what is particularly striking about his words, is that even though he was experiencing desolation as he even as he wrote them, Jeremiah was still not content to leave God’s love in the past. In spite of all the evidence that said otherwise, Jeremiah still believed that God’s love was present and at work in the world.
It would have been one thing if he had recalled God’s love toward Abraham, or God’s love toward the Israelites during the exodus, or God’s love toward King David. But it is another thing entirely when he says that God’s love never ceases, even in the throes of seemingly ever-present despair; another thing entirely when he says that God’s unending mercies are new every morning, constant as the rising of the sun.
But Lamentations does not end on this encouraging note; the remaining poems continue the dirge almost as if these hope-giving words had never been written. You might say that these verses themselves serve as the brief coolness of morning that comes between the dark night of the soul and the scorching heat of the judgment day -- a glimmer of relief (Lamentations 3:19-33) bound between great pain and loneliness (Lamentations 1 - 3:18), distress and anguish (Lamentations 3:34 - 5).
And yet out of all of Jeremiah’s wailings, it is the word of God’s love that sticks to our minds like velcro. Even if you’ve never read all of Lamentations, the odds are high that you’ve heard Lamentations 3:22-23 quoted at some point in your life. Why is unfailing love and new mercy what we remember from a book spilling over with sin and horror? Why does the brief hour of sunrise fill our hearts moreso than the whole of dreadful night and blazing day?
Sunrise: Boring and Beautiful
Constancy and consistency oftentimes strike us as boring, especially in a day and age when newness and novelty are always just a click (or an app) away. Who wants to look at the same old thing every day when you can look at something new instead?
Of course, neither consistency nor newness are inherently good or bad. Consistently neglecting a child is wrong; creating a new vaccine to fight disease is noble. But generally, our culture prizes newness as a virtue in and of itself, which causes us to often neglect the power and wonder of “the tried and true.”
But the sunrise throws off all conventions and gives us something unique: it gives us consistency and newness -- constancy and novelty. It is consistent and constant, it happens every morning -- and it is novel and new, we never know what colors it’s going to splash across the sky or what its light might reveal to us as the day goes on. The sun rises every day, but you’ll never see the same sunrise twice. And no matter what has happened before -- desolation, decay, despair -- sunrise brings with it hope, hope that today will have possibilities for healing, joy, and love that we’ve never even considered.
And so it is with God’s mercy. It is consistent and constant, it is always shining even when it seems to be veiled by clouds of sorrow and pain -- and it is novel and new, God is always tailoring it for our specific troubles and needs today, and casting out new colors of his love upon the firmaments of our hearts.
Though the present distress may be too much for us to bear apart from him, God’s love is still at work in us. In the words of the old hymn, “When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.”
So yes, after the brief respite of hope, the book of Lamentations does descend again into the suffering of the world -- but the story of Scripture does not end there. In fact, “on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). Jesus Christ, the flesh-and-blood embodiment of God’s mercy, has come. Through him, we are spared the blazing day of judgment (John 3:18). By him, the cool spring day of salvation has arrived (2 Corinthians 6:2). In him, we find a friend and mediator who prays for us with the same faithfulness as the rising sun (Hebrews 7:25).
And in keeping with his promises, God will give us new mercies every morning -- until the great and final day when the sun will rise for the last time, when in the twinkling of an eye we will behold God as he is, and when there will no longer be need for the sun or for sunrises because God himself will forever be our blessed light (1 John 3:2, Revelation 22:4-5).