Soundings

A faithful and unchanging God

A faithful and unchanging God
The lament of the prophet Jeremiah (Lamentations 1:1-2). Wood engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1860) / Source: iStock.com/ZU-09

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
~ Lamentations 3:22-23

The new year has dawned upon a world that remains restive and anxious.

The wars in the Middle East and Ukraine continue to plod on with no end in sight, bringing immense suffering and death in their wake. They epitomise all the other political hotspots in our troubled world, even as they steal the spotlight from them: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and Myanmar.

Closer to home, for some of us perhaps, ‘uncertain’ is the word that best describes how we feel as we step into this new year.

Will there be an opening this new year   that will bring this long and dry spell of unemployment to an end? Will the current treatment strategy be successful in getting rid of my metastatic cancer? Will I ever be able to crawl out of this quicksand of depression?

In the midst of our trials and worries, we once again hear the familiar words from Lamentations—words that we have committed to memory, words that we have repeatedly sung.

While these words are familiar to many Christians, the context in which they were originally written is perhaps less so.

It was 586 BC. Jerusalem was in a state of utter devastation. It had fallen into the hands of its enemy, trampled upon by the Babylonians. The great temple, the centre of the spiritual life and energy of God’s people, now lay in ruins, burnt to the ground. The leaders of the city were banished to that ‘strange land’, Babylon.

As Jeremiah witnessed the destruction and humiliation of the City of David, he lamented at the utter hopelessness of the situation with these sad and haunting words:

How lonely sits the city
that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
has become a slave.
~ Lamentations 1:1

For the next 64 verses, the prophet would mourn the destruction and desolation of the great city in heart-wrenching poetry.

Then in 3:21, the prophet paused to turn his attention to the one who alone was the foundation of hope amid this crisis—the God whose love and mercy endures, the God who is ever faithful.

The situation had not changed. Jerusalem still lay in ruins. Its people still remained in exile, subjugated by a godless tyrant. Yet in this ongoing crisis, Jeremiah turned his gaze upon God and was reminded of his faithfulness.

He then came to the realisation that God had not abandoned his people—not even in this dark period of their history. The dust and rubble of the fallen city did not signal the absence of the God of the Covenant. God continued to be faithfully present in the devastation and suffering—but present in his hiddenness, and present as Mystery.

The faithfulness of God cannot be properly understood apart from his attribute of immutability. God is ever-faithful because he is unchanging—in his essence, his being, his knowledge, his character and his purposes.

God is the great I AM (Exodus 3:14), “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Yet, this unchanging and unchangeable God is also “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

The faithful God is not simply present in our trials and comforting us in our struggles. He is present as our refuge and as our strength. Most significantly, he is here as our deliverer and saviour.

Recalling the deliverance of God, the psalmist gives voice to this wonderful truth when he declares:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
~ Psalm 18:2

Jeremiah knew this. Standing in the chaos of hopelessness and despair, he called to mind the faithfulness of God, whose purposes for his people had not changed.

And this act of remembering the faithfulness of God, this acknowledgement that God is indeed there during the tumult and the travail, filled the prophet once again with hope—”But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (Lamentations 3:21).

Jeremiah saw that because God is faithful, the future can be different from the present. He saw that because God is faithful, the past and the present do not determine the future. Our future is in the hands of God.

As we cross the threshold into the new year, let us all follow the example of Jeremiah regardless of our circumstances. Let us remember that the God we worship, love and serve is always faithful.

And in remembering our God, let us also put our hope in him!

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

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