March 28, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Lamentations 1:3 (NRSV)
Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.
Life is hard. That’s true. All of us experience occasional difficulties and pains. Many in our world know suffering each and every day. The biblical book of Lamentations recognizes the hardness of life. Yet, when we read it in the context of the whole of Scripture, we learn to acknowledge life’s pains while at the same time looking forward with hope to God’s future.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
Several years ago, I kept running into the unhappy thought: Life is hard, and then you die. For some reason, this saying showed up on bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other places where platitudes flourish. In fact, you can go online and buy a cheery mug featuring this saying. I’m not quite sure why the saying became so popular, though I suppose it was an ironic response to the naïve idealism that dominated much of our culture in the late 20th century.
The book of Lamentations might very well agree with those who affirm, “Life is hard, and then you die.” At least the “life is hard” part. The hardness of life was especially apparent to the Jews in the first part of the sixth century B.C. As Babylon asserted its superior power over Judah, the Jews experienced suffering, hard service, and exile. Separated from their homeland, they struggled simply to remain alive. As Lamentations 1:3 puts it, as a scattered people, they found no rest.
In our world, life is hard for everyone at one time or another—though it’s certainly hard for those whose experience is like that of the ancient Jews. People who live under political oppression feel the punishing reality of life each day.
Life may be even harder for exiles, such as those who have fled from Ukraine, who find themselves unwelcome and impoverished in the places where they dwell without a home. Yet the hardness of life isn’t simply a result of political oppression, violence, and injustice. In fact, the theological root of life’s difficulties can be found in the opening chapters of Genesis. There we learn that God created the world fully good, as a place where human beings could flourish. Yet they rejected God and his ways. As a result, life became hard. Women still gave birth, but in extreme pain. Men still worked the soil, but with frustration and discomfort as they battled thorns, thistles, and other hardships. Life is hard, not because God intended it that way from the beginning, but because hardness goes hand in hand with sin.
Those of us who live privileged lives may sometimes assume that life isn’t hard. When painful things come my way, I am sometimes surprised in addition to chagrined. I know there are challenges in life, but I don’t really think of life as being consistently hard. Yet, when I pay attention to the experiences of people across the globe, when I let myself hear their cries for justice, peace, and rest, when I watch the suffering so many people must endure, I’m reminded of the fact that life is hard and that I am incredibly blessed to live with so little suffering.
Biblically-informed people should not be surprised when life is hard. Lamentations is one of many biblical books that underscores the difficulties we face on this earth. Yet, as Christians, we should not live with resignation. We could put a bumper sticker on our car that began with “Life is hard.” But our sticker would have to be a little longer that the usual one. It might say: Life is hard, and, yes, you will die. But, in the meanwhile, God is redeeming this world and you get to share in that redemption through Christ. Yes, life will still be hard, but God will be with you, and then you will die . . . and then you will live forever in the new heaven and the new earth.
Chapter 1 of Lamentations doesn’t reveal this kind of hope for the future, of course. But when we read it in the context of the whole of Scripture, when we see the hardness of life in light of God’s whole story of redemption and restoration, then we are able to acknowledge the hardness of life without hesitation, while at the same time looking forward to the blessings of God’s future.
Why do you think the “Life is hard” saying became so popular?
What does this tell us about our culture?
If life is hard, what keeps us from falling into a pit of resignation?
What gives you hope when your life is hard?
Read a news story about the experiences of exiles from Ukraine and the hardness of their lives.
Gracious God, yes, life is hard. Sometimes the hardness of life is acute and obvious, when people are oppressed or exiled, or when we suffer with sickness and sadness, or when we face poverty and desperation. But even in the good times – and for these we give thanks – there are still reminders of life’s difficulties.
O God, I know you didn’t mean for life to be this way. I see in Scripture the sorry story of our sin, as well as the good news of your salvation. I am encouraged by the reality of the new creation. One day, you will mend that which has been broken.
In the meanwhile, help us to endure life’s hardships with patience and hope. Keep us from resignation and defeat. May we never be surprised when life is hard, and may we never cease praying for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth. Furthermore, help us to pay attention to the sufferings of others, whether they be people we know personally or folks living across the globe.
O Lord, let us be instruments of your peace, love, and justice, so that all may catch glimpses of your coming kingdom. 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: Suffering With Christ in Order to Be Glorified With Christ (Romans 8:15–17)
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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.