April 3, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Additional Anniversary Note from Mark
Dear Life for Leaders Reader,
Last Friday’s devotion began with a note from me, commemorating the seventh anniversary of the start of Life for Leaders. If you missed that note, you can read it here.
The note in Friday’s email accidentally omitted a paragraph that I’d had written. I’m adding it here because it communicates my gratitude to many, including you:
Life for Leaders has been the source of regular blessings for me. I am grateful for the chance to study Scripture and share with you in a prayerful way what I have learned. I’m thankful for our dedicated team of writers, who cover the weekends so wisely and faithfully. I’m also grateful for people like you who read Life for Leaders, since serving you is the point. Over the years, I’ve heard from hundreds of our readers. I love learning how these devotions have made a difference in your life. And I’m always thankful for your words of encouragement. They keep us going!
Blessings to you during this season of Lent!
Scripture – Lamentations 2:5 (NRSV)
The Lord has become like an enemy;
he has destroyed Israel;
He has destroyed all its palaces,
laid in ruins its strongholds,
and multiplied in daughter Judah
mourning and lamentation.
When we go through times of suffering and disillusionment, it can feel as if God has abandoned us. Worse still, it can seem as if God has become our enemy. That’s how it felt to the writer of Lamentations. His example gives us the freedom to be honest about what we think and feel in times of doubt and desperation. We do not have to hold back, especially with God. Why? Because we know that even if God seems like our enemy, God is in fact and always our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
Lamentations 2:5, like the chapter in which it is found, attributes the destruction of Jerusalem to God’s activity. Yes, God did this through human enemies of Israel, namely Babylon (Lamentations 2:7). But behind the agency of Babylon was the strong arm of God. Thus, Lamentations says, “The Lord has become like an enemy; he has destroyed Israel; He has destroyed all its palaces, laid in ruins its strongholds, and multiplied in daughter Judah mourning and lamentation” (2:5).
This sounds bad, very bad. It’s hard to imagine something worse than having God as your enemy. But it’s important for us to notice a crucial word in Lamentations 2:5, one that we might easily miss. The writer does not say “The Lord has become an enemy,” but rather, “The Lord has become like an enemy.” (For those of you who know Hebrew, “like” translates the particle ke.)
Why is this little word “like” so significant? Because it allows the writer of Lamentations to say that God feels like an enemy of Israel, while at the same time recognizing that God is not in fact Israel’s enemy. The Lord seems to act like an enemy. But, in fact, the Lord is not the enemy of the people of God.
Lamentations 2:5 models, on the one hand, the kind of stunning bluntness that we have already seen in this biblical book. Someone with deep faith in the Lord is able to say, nevertheless, that the Lord seems just like an enemy. That’s pretty blunt and bold, don’t you think? Yet, on the other hand, this verse gives evidence of faith; struggling faith, to be sure, but faith that God is really not our enemy, no matter how it feels.
Jesus says that his disciples are not just students, but also friends (John 15:14-15). Most Christians go through seasons of life, however, when God feels like anything but a friend. As a pastor, I have walked with people through times of tremendous loss and suffering. I have joined them in prayers that felt as if they bounced back from the ceiling, never getting the slightest attention from God. I have wondered time and again why God lets terrible things happen to people who love and seek to honor God. Sometimes God’s ways make no sense to me. Or, to be even more honest, God makes no sense to me. It can feel as if God has turned away from us, or even against us.
The example of the book of Lamentations urges us not to hide our true thoughts and feelings in times of suffering and perplexity. It’s not wrong for us to cry out, “God, why do you feel like my enemy?” Such honesty with the Lord opens up a vital channel of divine communication. Not only does it allow us to share our hearts with God, but also it allows us to begin to hear what God is saying to us.
Of course, if we were to believe that God was truly our enemy, then this would change things dramatically. For one thing, we wouldn’t feel free to tell God what we really think and feel for fear that God might simply wipe us out. After all, you don’t speak candidly and vulnerably to your enemy.
But we know from other passages of Scripture, including one coming up in Lamentations, that God is not our enemy. In fact, God ultimately defends us and protects us against our enemies. As it says in Psalm 23:5-6, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” Thus, though it might feel as if God is our enemy, in fact, the God revealed to us through Christ is our “Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.”*
*A line from “O Worship the King,” Robert Grant, 1833. Public domain.
Have you ever gone through a difficult time in which it felt like God was against you?
How free are you to tell God when you’re disappointed or angry with God?
If God is our Good Shepherd, why do you think God sometimes lets bad things happen to us?
Talk with your small group or a wise friend about times in your lives when God has felt far away, or even like an enemy. What happened and how did it feel? How did things turn out?
Gracious God, I know you are not my enemy. In so many ways, you have revealed to me your grace, kindness, and love, most of all through Christ. Thank you.
Yet, there have been times in my life when you have mystified me, times when I could not understand what you were doing or what you were not doing. Though I have never said that you feel like my enemy, my secret thoughts have come pretty close to this. Thank you for seeing everything about me, even that which I try to hide from you. Thank you for looking upon me in mercy. And thank you for reaching out to me in love, making sure that I know you are a friend like no other. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Importance of Workplace Relationships (John 14-17)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.