IN THIS INFORMATION-RICH AGE, many of us have learned to be as brief as possible.
That was one of the areas in which my own doctoral supervisor helped me a great deal: though my prose style is still too rambling, whatever leanness and precision it has owes a great deal to his thorough correcting of my work a quarter of a century ago. Efficient managers learn to be brief; computer programmers are rated on how briefly they can write precise code to do what needs to be done. Only a few contemporary authors (e.g., Tom Clancy and James Michener) get away with long, rambling books—and even then the editors have drastically trimmed them.
Yet here we are, quietly reading through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, with Ezekiel to go, and we find ourselves circling around the same handful of themes again and again: sin in the covenant community, threatened judgment, then enacted judgment, first for the northern tribes, then for Judah. We recognize the subtle differences, of course: history, apocalyptic, oracle, lament, prayers. Here in Lamentations 5, the fifth dirge is cast as a long prayer: "Remember, O LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace" (Lam. 5:1). But haven't you caught yourself saying to yourself more than once, "I know this is the Word of God, and I know it is important, but I think I understand now something of the history and the theology of the exile. Couldn't we get on to something else?" We live in an age burgeoning with information, we cry for brevity, and the Bible at times seems terribly discursive. So we scan another chapter as rapidly as possible because we already "know" all this.
But that is part of the problem, isn't it? Read through this chapter again, slowly, thoughtfully. Of course, it is tied to Israel six centuries before Christ, to the destruction of her cities and land and temple, to the onset of the exile. But listen to the depth and persistence of the pleas, the repentance, the personal engagement with God, the cultural awareness, the acknowledgment of God's sovereignty and justice, the profound recognition that the people must be restored to God himself if return to the land is to be possible, let alone meaningful (Lam. 5:21). Then compare this with the brands of Christian confessionalism with which you are most familiar. In days of cultural declension, moral degradation, and large-scale ecclesiastical frittering, is our praying like that of Lamentations 5? Have the themes of the major prophets so burned into our minds and hearts that our passion is to be restored to the living God? Or have we ourselves become so caught up in the spirit of this age that we are content to be rich in information and impoverished in wisdom and godliness?