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Just finished writing my devotional entry for the 2010 CRM Lenten Devotional. It is due on Monday. I know we are currently upon Pentecost, but perhaps you never really reflected properly during the 2009 Lenten season. Here’s your chance, slacker!

Lamentations 3:22-24

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

In 1998, I was exiled. I was violently expelled from my home against my will. All my applications for re-entry were denied. I was stiff-armed at every border.

Exile for me equaled pain. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of me and I was stuck in that moment between the impact on my chest and the refilling of my lungs. Here, my spirit was nearly consumed.

In 586 BC, the people of Jerusalem were exiled. Babylonian forces starved, ravaged, and brutally murdered many of the city’s inhabitants. The walls were burned. The survivors, led away.

Lamentations is a collage of sketches from the incident that initiated the scattering of the Jews and came to define Israel as a people exiled from their own land –

Giotto's Angel of Lament

Giotto's Angel of Lament

a home given to them by their God. This brooding book projects images of starving children who upon their death are eaten by their own starving mothers. Women are brutally raped. Once called royal ‘queen,’ Jerusalem is transmogrified into a filthy whore. The LORD, himself, is so angry he is portrayed as a pitiless “enemy” ravaging those with whom he is supposed to have an everlasting covenant.

The onslaught of degrading snapshots and wretched descriptions rarely stalls as it plows from one chapter to the next. Even the final verse of the book leaves open the terrifying possibility that God has ‘utterly rejected’ his people who are now beyond restoration.

But there is hope for all exiles.

Almost exactly in the middle of this desert of lament we locate an oasis. While the other four chapters each stop at verse twenty-two, the middle chapter launches a meditation on hope in its twenty-second verse that continues on for several stanzas. It begins: Because of the Yahweh’s great love we are not consumed…

The word consume means to ‘take in’ or to ‘use up.’ As purchasers we consume cars, toys, clothes. As living organisms we consume food and drink. As human minds we consume books, ideas, philosophies. Consequently we, ourselves, are altogether taken in and vacuumed up, indiscreetly swirled together with all we insatiably invite into our lives. At this point, the consumer becomes the consumed. The purchaser is bought and owned. The eater becomes the eaten. Our own consumption leads to our own consumption.

What is our salvation from the consumption of us and by us?

We are finally saved by divine compassion. The word compassion comes from the Latin compati, literally meaning “suffering with.” When the LORD chooses to enter our suffering (of which Jesus’ incarnation is the prime example) there is absolutely no possibility we can be overwhelmed either by what we take in or what takes us in. For, it is in God’s taking in of us – the orphan, widow, exile, misfit, sinner – that the circle of consumption is finally broken. We are consumed with him alone.

My divorce nearly ruined me. It was only God’s limitless compassion, renewed daily that kept me from being sucked up with my pain into oblivion.

Israel was nearly ruined, too. It is only the LORD’s unfailing love that has sustained them through exile, pogroms, and holocausts and prevented their disappearance as the people of God.

We need not over consume nor be consumed over our circumstances. God has set aside the perfect portion for those He loves. He is our portion. He is also our consumer. And so, we wait patiently to be taken up and in to his peace.

What is it that threatens to consume you?

In the past, when you have been surrounded by potentially consuming circumstances, how have you responded?

How might you begin to put unhealthy consumption to bed and awaken yourself  to God’s compassion?