Once again, in the midst of gloom and doom, there is this hopeful word in Jeremiah 26:2-3….
Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.
When God’s people sin, it is obviously God’s will that they should repent and not die in their sin. That is why God sends prophets, like Jeremiah, to warn us. However, then you may ask, “Why did God send punishment to the Jews in the end, the punishment of the exile? Why does God allow so much pain?”
C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, gives this partial answer….
The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt…. And pain is not only immediately recognizable evil, but evil impossible to ignore. We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
I say this is a partial answer to the problem of pain because, while it is an intellectually satisfying answer, it is not an emotionally satisfying one. Giving to someone in the midst of suffering a book to read like The Problem of Pain is never a helpful or truly caring act. When we are in the midst of suffering, we need someone to come alongside of us, put their arm around us, and simply let us know they are with us and will not leave us in our pain. God does that by sending the Holy Spirit, the comforter to us in the midst of our suffering. And God sends human comforters as well, other human beings who have been through what we are going through. C. S. Lewis was one of these comforters. His book, A Grief Observed, is the chronicle of a fellow sufferer that countless readers have found comforting in the midst of their own grief.
The good news of Jeremiah 26:2-3 is the God never gives up on us, in our sin, in our sickness, in our suffering, even in death. Our God will go to the lowest place to rescue us, and God proved this when Jesus, as we confess in the Creed, “descended into hell”. (1 Peter 3:19) I believe that Jesus continues to descend into our personal hells (as Lewis depicts in The Great Divorce) to rattle the bars of our self-imposed cages and to set the prisoners free.