Fraulein Maria brought grief, then compassion

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was my mother’s favorite hymn. I’ve been singing it in church all my life, and it has become one of my most cherished, too. It might surprise you what book of the Bible inspired the title and text Thomas O. Chisolm penned in 1928. It isn’t the Psalms, many of which were voiced by the deeply-spiritual shepherd David contemplating his amazing God while sensing the marvels of the created world. On the contrary, that hymn grew out of verses found in a book by the “saddest” Bible writer we can think of: Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet.”

Still, you might quickly call to mind one of the most popular verses in Jeremiah, about “plans to prosper you”; “to give you hope and a future” (29:11). I firmly believe we land on that “happy” verse in Jeremiah because we prefer not to think about the rest of what he wrote.

Lamentations is the much briefer book that comes after the fifty-two chapters in Jeremiah. (Same writer for both.) Fortunately for us – but, first, for poor Jeremiah, and for the people of his day! – not every word in these two books is overwhelmingly depressing!

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions* never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

*In the King James text, it’s God’s “mercies” that are described as new every morning. Hence, the beautiful line of hymn poetry, “morning by morning new mercies I see.”

If you haven’t read Jeremiah lately, you might not remember that this faithful servant received and passed along God’s messages at a time when virtually no one wanted to hear the truth. Things were as horrible for God’s people as things could possibly be, and the people were not interested in hearing anything corrective from the God they believed had totally rejected and abandoned them – when in fact it was the other way around; they had totally rejected God.

The accounts in Jeremiah and in the early chapters of the companion book Lamentations, of judgment and ruin so complete – and so deserved – are at moments so graphic I sometimes could manage only a brief summary in last year’s journal:
“These images of the forsaken, punished Judah in exile are both distasteful and disturbing.” or
“Chapter 52 is summary and statistical information about the exile’s start, progress, and results. None of it happy.”

Even so, a certain assigned reading in Lamentations prompted me to note, “God does not wish for nor delight in any human suffering, even when that suffering is a deserved and just punishment.” The very next day, the NIV One-Year Bible put these words before me, in support of my note:

“Though he brings grief,
he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring
affliction or grief to the children of men.

Lamentations 3:32-33

2 Peter 3:9 voices it this way: “The Lord is patient… not willing that any should perish, but [desiring] that all should come to repentance.”

A scene from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music suddenly came to mind on June 23 as I typed my handwritten meditations from the previous October. Her first day on the job, Fraulein Maria “brings grief” to the von Trapp children while all are seated at the dinner table. Her speech stirs within the out-of-control pranksters appropriate guilt feelings and remorse for having slipped a frog into her pocket earlier in the day, in order to frighten and annoy her. With the children’s clueless and sullen father looking on, the governess “praises” the “precious gift” left in her pocket and “thanks” the children for their “thoughtfuness”:

“Knowing how I must have felt, a stranger in a new household, it was so kind of you to make my first moments here so warm and happy and pleasant.”

Maria’s extreme sarcasm has the intended effect, making most visibly the younger girls cry with shame and regret for having played that mean-spirited and immature prank on a nice stranger who had come there to be of service to them. This wise method of “bringing grief” opens the door for Maria to begin building a rapport with the children, showing them “compassion” as they have sunk into an unhealthy pattern, desperate for comfort and companionship, for acceptance and for attention from their father – all seven children and their father sorely grieving the loss of Mrs. von Trapp.

“Oh, they’re all right, Captain. They’re just happy!”

It’s a hard lesson, to be sure, but a true one – for Old Testament Israel, for the von Trapp brats, for a floundering America in 2021. We must be willing to have our wrong ways corrected. Pride has no place in the life of devotion to the Lord God Almighty. If the heart will not give way its stone encasement, if self-exaltation remains king, where will correction land? Whom will it reach and whom will it help?

P.S. On this topic, “tractable” is a great Jane Austen word I picked up recently. While it may strike you as a negative characteristic, it really isn’t. Not in the context of this blog post. And not in light of Ezekiel 36:26, which is reflected in the above paragraph.

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