Turning to the Bible when sorrow strikes
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Words by Thomas O. Chisolm
The United Methodist Hymnal, 140
Earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters can cause the deaths of hundreds of people, and harm and displace thousands more. When tragedies of great magnitude occur, people of faith are filled with questions.
We wonder why God allows these events to happen. We wrestle with making sense of the suffering we witness, in light of our Christian faith. We want to sing, “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!” but our hearts struggle to find a melody.
The chorus of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is an adaptation of Lamentations 3:22-23, which was written in the midst of tragedy. The five poems that make up this book from the Hebrew Scriptures were written during one of the most trying times in the history of Israel. In 586 B.C.E., the invading army of the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and along with it, the Temple.
Loss of security
The people had felt very secure. The Temple was understood as the place where God dwelled. Many thought that as a result, the city of Jerusalem was invincible. The defeat by Babylon was a major breach of their sense of security. If God’s house had been violated, then where could the people feel safe?
In an earthquake, buildings in which people live and feel protected prove unreliable. Sometimes those places where we feel the most secure can betray us.
We may not have experienced the literal ground beneath our feet giving way, but many have known the loss of something we thought would last forever. A spouse asks us to dissolve the marriage we assumed was eternal. Financial struggles cause us to leave the home in which we planned to spend the rest of our lives. Jobs to which we have been loyal let us go without warning.
We want to feel safe. We want to know everything is always going to be OK. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.
Verse after verse of Lamentations describes the pain of people who have lost everything. There are tears, questions, and fists shaking in anger. There is grief, hurt, and a sense of abandonment.
The book closes without resolution. In the final lines we read this heartwrenching prayer, “Why do you forget us continually; why do you abandon us for such a long time? Return us, Lord, to yourself. Please let us return! Give us new days, like those long ago—unless you have completely rejected us, or have become too angry with us” (Lamentations 5:20-22).
Questions are left unanswered. The tragedy is not explained. Instead we are given something else.
Hope in the face of tragedy
In the center of the book—the middle verses of the middle poem—we find a ray of hope. Despite the devastation and suffering, the author proclaims that God is with us.
“Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended,” the poet writes, “certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! ... Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
This is our song! This is our hope!
Despite what others will say is evidence to the contrary, we are still convinced “the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended.” In the face of widespread suffering, we continue to sing, “God’s compassion isn’t through.” When that which we thought was safe and reliable fails us, we dare to proclaim, “Great is your faithfulness.”
God is with those who experience an earthquake, flood, or other disaster. God's love hasn’t ended. God's compassion isn’t through.
In the aftermath of tragedy, we give witness to the love of God. In our outpouring of support, we proclaim the value of every human life. As we grieve with those in mourning, we share the love of God. When we send supplies through Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, we witness to God’s provision. When medical professionals bind up wounds, Jesus is shown as a healer. When homes are rebuilt, we proclaim resurrection.
As we seek to minister to those in need through our prayers and support, we sing, “Great is your faithfulness!”
This story was first published on April 28, 2015, follow a devastating earthquake in Nepal. Some text has been updated.