The Return
Lamentations 3:40-42
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.…

Before it is possible to return to God, before the desire to return is even awakened, a much less inviting action must be undertaken. The first and greatest hindrance to reconciliation with our Father is our failure to recognise that any such reconciliation is necessary. If the soul's quarrel with her Lord is ever to be ended it must be discovered. Therefore the first step will be in the direction of self-examination. We are led to look in this direction by the startling thought with which the previous triplet closes. If the calamities bewailed are the chastisements of sin it is necessary for this sin to be sought out. The language of the elegist suggests that we are not aware of the nature of our own conduct, and that it is only by some serious effort that we can make ourselves acquainted with it, for this is what he implies when he represents the distressed people resolving to "search and try" their ways. The externalism in which most of our lives are spent makes the effort to look within a painful contradiction of habit. When it is attempted pride and prejudice face the inquirer, and too often quite hide the true self from view. Even when the effort to acquire self-knowledge is strenuous and persevering, and accompanied by an honest resolution to accept the results, however unwelcome they may be, it often fails for lack of a standard of judgment. We discover our actual characters most effectually when we compare our conduct with the conduct of Jesus Christ. As the light of the world, He leads the world to see itself. He is the great touchstone of character. We may be reminded, on the other hand, that too much introspection is not wholesome, that it begets morbid ways of thought, paralyses the energies, and degenerates into insipid sentimentality. No doubt it is best that the general tendency of the mind should be towards the active duties of life. But to admit this is not to deny that there may be occasions when the most ruthless self-examination becomes a duty of first importance. Then while a certain kind of self-study is always mischievous — the sickly habit of brooding over one's feelings, it is to be observed that the elegist does not recommend this. It is not emotion but action that he is concerned with. The searching is to be into our "ways," the course of our conduct. The word "ways" suggests habit and continuity. These are more characteristic than isolated deeds — short spasms of virtue or sudden falls before temptation. The final judgment will be according to the life, not its exceptional episodes. A man lives his habits. He may be capable of better things, he may be liable to worse; but he is what he does habitually. Our main business in self-examination is to trace the course of the unromantic beaten track, the long road on which we travel from morning to evening through the whole day of life. The result of this search into the character of their ways on the part of the people is that it is found to be necessary to forsake them forth. with; for the next idea is in the form of a resolution to turn out of them, nay, to turn back, retracing the footsteps that have gone astray, in order to come to God again. These ways are discovered, then, to be bad — vicious in themselves, and wrong in their direction. This is a case of ending our old ways, not mending them. No engineering skill will ever transform the path that points straight to perdition into one that conducts us up to the heights of heaven. The only chance of coming to walk in the right way is to forsake the wrong way altogether, and make an entirely new start. Again — a very significant fast — the return is described in positive language. It is a coming back to God, not merely a departure from the old way of sin. The initial impulse towards a better life springs more readily from the attraction of a new hope than from the repulsion of a loathed evil. The hopeful repentance is exhilarating, while that which is only born of the disgust and horror of sin is dismally depressing. Following up his general exhortation to return to God, the elegist adds a particular one, in which the process of the new movement is described. It takes the form of a prayer from the heart. The resolution is to lift up the heart with the hands. Lastly, the poet furnishes the returning penitents with the very language of the hearts prayer, which is primarily confession.

(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.

WEB: Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh.

The Penitent's First Effort
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