When Jeremiah walked through the rubble of Jerusalem, he despaired. What he had warned of for his people had come to pass, and there was no satisfaction in being right, just heart-wrenching grief. The city itself was grief personified: "How lonely sits the city/ that was full of people. . . . She weeps bitterly in the night. . . " (Jer. 1:1-2). The whole book of Lamentations is just that: a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. And yet even in the rubble of all that he knew, in the ashes of all that was, Jeremiah did not lose hope. Midway through the book, in its very center, is a affirmation, a memory of who God is, that "the Lord is good. . . " (Jer. 3:25)
In Knowing God, theologian J.I. Packer spends quite a few words trying to elucidate what it means to say God is good. But as helpful as his discussion is, we can only think of God's goodness by analogy, by its application. Packer says that the focal point of God's goodness is His generosity, and "[g]enerosity means a disposition to give to others in a way that has no mercenary motive and is not limited by what the recipients deserve but consistently goes beyond it." And yet. . . we still ask what that looks like to determine what it really means.
I doubt we can appreciate the depth of despair Jeremiah felt, the gut-wrenching emotion at seeing a civilization leveled under the judgment of God. And yet for all the truth, goodness, and beauty that surrounds me, there are days I still feel like I am walking among the rubble of a civilization, when the underbelly of life is on display, when for just a few minutes I see who we are and who I am but for the mercy of God. I'm stopped at a traffic light and see a littered median and that affront to beauty becomes emblematic of a greater disregard for Creation and for each other. I flip through the channels on cable TV and am amazed and shocked at the vapid and coarse nature of most programming. I make a brief stop at the mall, and I have a sense of the deep unhappiness and discontent that courses through life despite the abundance of material things.
Then I have to ask God to show me His goodness, and He does. I saw kids out today picking up trash by the road. In a world of virtual conversation, I met face-to-face with several men and relished the humor and wisdom and human relationships. I read a poem by Mary Oliver, "Messenger," in which she said
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird ---
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
a poem is which she goes on to say that her work is
. . . gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
That's what God's doing: loving the world. And I just need to get on with that. Get up from the ashes.