Affliction Considered A, Punishment
Lamentations 3:38-39
Out of the mouth of the most High proceeds not evil and good?…

I. IT COMES FROM GOD. The text points us to the moral Governor of the world, to Him who has made us, and made us men, and who orders things with reference to our condition and character as souls and as sinners. The Bible, of course, traces all suffering to God. It teaches us that He creates evil and good; that He causes light and darkness; that He appoints the rod; that if evil is in the city He hath done it; that is, it ascribes trouble to Him, as it ascribes everything else to Him, of whom, through whom, and to whom all things are, who made all things, for Himself, even the wicked for the day of His wrath. Apart from questions of inspiration, such language is natural. The natural piety and scientific ignorance of men would delight, and be obliged, to use it; piety longing to make as much of God as possible, and ignorance not knowing what else to do. There is, no doubt, a sense in which God does all things. That is, since He has a plan, and accomplishes that plan — in other words, since He is all-wise and all-powerful, He must exercise a universal superintendence and control. God may be said to bring about results, even in the case of the voluntary acts of men, if He has so ordered the existing system that those results shall follow those acts. For our present purpose it is enough that in any true sense what happens to us is referable to His will; that it is His pleasure that it should happen; that He knows of it, and either causes it, or intentionally allows it. Our miseries, of every kind and source, are from Him; that is, from a Being having intelligence and will; not from what we call, with or without meaning, "chance," or "fate"; a personal God, a Father, a moral Ruler, means them. It is "punishment" — shall we "complain"?

II. WE HAVE OURSELVES ONLY TO BLAME FOR OUR TROUBLES. It is quite true, generally, that we suffer because we sin. We should not know trouble if we were not guilty. We are not to vex ourselves, as good people often do, with inquiries as to the individual reasons and designs of our troubles; we are not to ask, in the sense of Job, "Show me wherefrom Thou contendest with me; we are not to institute a particular search into the occasions of our trials, as if each had a special meaning, and indicated a special sin, after the manner of Adonibezek's punishment. It is enough for us that we are sinful, and therefore sorrowful; that we should not be where we are if we were not what we are; that God has placed us in a world of thorns and briers as well as flowers and fruits; in bodies whose organs pain as well as please; in a system of "wicked and unreasonable men"; and many more very weak and thoughtless, intercourse with whom must often vex and distress us, because we were, in His foresight, creatures meriting chastisement, and able to profit by it. But we may go much farther than this in reference to many of our troubles. We cause them by our own acts. They are the direct results of our own conduct, of single deeds, or of courses of conduct. And we may know it, and ought to know it. "Sins" are of many kinds, but they are always violations of rule. "Sin is the transgression of the law." And law always has penalty, sooner or later, milder or more severe. Take the case of physical health. Many of our grievances are bodily. We have "trouble in the flesh." And as Gideon "took thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them taught the men of Succoth," so we learn from material experiences, and they are often painful ones. Indeed, many people can learn no otherwise. "The messenger of Satan," is only in return for some foolish message of our own; and "the thorn in the flesh" is there a pressure we ought to have avoided. The father of a family is struck down by paralysis; all the mystery of the case is in his persisting, in spite of friends and feelings, in putting two days' work and worry into one. A young woman has just died of consumption; the only marvel is that she let herself, and others let her, go out of a heated room into the cold air, or wear a dress that compressed the action of her vital organs. A young man comes home from school or university to die; there is nothing inscrutable about it, except in the unnatural strain of brain or body by work or play. Wherefore should a man "complain for the punishment of his sins"? And the same remarks apply to the lowness and gloom of spirits, and a hundred evils of mind and soul, that flow from a diseased or languid action of the bodily powers. Despondency, and even despair, may come from indigestion. Unstrung nerves may make any one "walk in darkness, and have no light." Many Christians go to the Divine for comfort, when they should go to the doctor for cure. They think God is "hiding His face," when He is really showing Himself, showing His love for them and for all men, in upholding the order of things, in which their welfare and that of all men is concerned. Wherefore should "a man complain for the punishment of his sins"?

III. TROUBLE, AS AND BECAUSE PUNISHMENT, MIGHT HAVE BEEN WORSE, AND MAY BE BETTER. "Wherefore should a living man complain?" Stress is to be laid upon this. The trouble, whatever it is, might have been greater. It has exceptions and alleviations. The darkness does not cover the whole sphere of vision. The ingredients of the cup are not all bitter. We are not afflicted in all kinds, and in all degrees, like Job. We can imagine worse trouble. We can find worse. We deserve worse. We cannot have the worst while "living." There are sorer sorrows after death: the sorest here might be but "the beginning of sorrows," a foretaste and an earnest of the uttermost wrath of God. While living, we are not wholly lost. "To him that is joined unto all the living, there is hope" — hope of living even here, and hope of living in the fulness and infinitude of life hereafter. And this punishment of the living is to prevent their ever dying, in the full import of that awful word. This trouble, while it might have been worse, may be better — may be best of all. In the highest sense we may say, "This sickness is not unto death, but unto life. This loss is not unto ruin, but unto wealth. This sorrow is not unto hopeless misery, but exceeding and eternal joy."

(A. J. Morris.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?

WEB: Doesn't evil and good come out of the mouth of the Most High?

Address to Complainers
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