Lamentations 3:32-33 New International Version (NIV)
“Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”
This could be part II to the post Not Consumed.
The phrase for ‘brings grief’ in Hebrew is yagah, and is a verb meaning to afflict, vex, cause grief. What’s surprising is this isn’t passive, God’s not just allowing something to happen. The verb implies he is actively doing it. Some translations start with “if”, others “since”, and the NIV says “though”, which means the translations can’t agree on if this is universal or a potential grief bringing. One this is certain, there’s no question on the person doing it.
To me it’s not if, but when; so when affliction comes, then what? It says he will show compassion. Unlike this verse, the word for compassion used in Lam 3:23 comes from racham from the root ‘womb’. In this verse it also is translated out as racham but there is a little apostrophe on the Hebrew word, which changes the root to ‘fondle’. Thus a compassion of tenderness, a gentle touch, a soothing hand. Why the compassion? It comes from his loving kindness or unfailing love which is abundant. The Hebrew word for this unfailing love is chesed which means mercy, and comes from the word chacad which means to stoop or bend one’s neck in deference to another. To me this implies a respectful or deferential love. Though hard to believe, God lowers his head to us with merciful love.
The order in Hebrew has the next word as anah which means to be bowed down, or let’s say pushed down. The other times this exact word was used in the bible it was translated as violate, in regards to a woman. It’s not just pushing someone to the ground, but defiling them. A pretty harsh word. This helps us read the verse as God does not force us down, willingly. Willingly is our translation for the Hebrew word mil-lib-bow, or leb meaning heart. In fact the only other time this word is used like this is 2 Kings 9:24 which talks about an arrow going through the center of someone’s heart. This implies that the intent of God’s heart, at the center, isn’t to push us down and cause grief.
Although the NIV ends with ‘anyone’ I find it interesting that the Hebrew uses the phrase ‘son’s of man’ or ‘children of man’. By referencing children, isn’t there an added element of paternalism?
Thinking like a parent helps me visualize this passage. While at first glance the causal factor seems cruel and unjust, I keep thinking about this in parenting terms. Specifically the image of immunizations for my kids comes to mind. When I and the nurses hold down (anah) my child and inflict pain/cause grief by injecting a vaccination, the intent of my heart is not to cause harm, yet I do it, knowing it’s for their good. As they cry and grieve in pain, I absolutely cradle them with compassion (racham). In fact, it is my abundant love for them that allowed me to cause them grief in the first place.