I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you…
A beautiful set of verses in Joel. Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Yet I hate with all of my being that there were entire years that were eaten by locusts. I hate that people had to endure that pain and despair before they could reach the end point of being satisfied and praising God.
The memories of those years don’t go away.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before…And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters…And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
Another beautiful set of verses in Job. Verses filled with hope, with new life and new beginnings.
Yet Job still endured the loss of all that he had. He still watched all of his children die and, as any of you who have lost children know all too well, no number of new children can ever take away the pain of losing those who came before.
It is a heart filled with mixed emotions, this kind of hope. It is joy and excitement over the beauty of what lies ahead and it is sorrow and grieving over what happened in the past.
This is life.
It is beauty that is tinged with sorrow. It is love that is colored by loss. All who live deeply are affected. None are exempt except for those who choose not to love.
God speaks beautiful words about our future with Him, words filled with promise, words filled with satisfaction and praise and joy. What do we do with this apparent contradiction? How do we get from this common suffering to a perfect life filled with perfect joy?
One option is that it is all a big hoax. None of this hope is true; it is all just a ruse to keep us from rebelling too hard against our lot in life.
Those who have known God long enough to catch a glimpse of His character, though, know that He is not given to such cruel jokes.
If you keep God in the picture, this God who is the very definition of love, than you are left with the answer that it is somehow all worth it. If God is who He says He is, if His words are trustworthy and true, then somehow the end is so brilliantly glorious that it will eclipse the darkness that came before.
Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. ~ C.S. Lewis
So what do we do with this hope that is so full of wildly contradicting emotions? I don’t understand how this sort of ending is at all possible when the sorrow seems so great. Yet like Abraham, we are asked to keep trusting in the face of apparent impossibility. Trusting that what God said to Abraham is truth for all: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”
On our best days we are able to trust that, in the end, we will be so seized by the sight of His face that we will fall to the ground at His feet in pure adoration. And all that came before will be as a vacuous mist that is chased away by the brilliant light and heat of the sun.
I wonder if it is worth it to obey Christ? He does, after all, say crazy, ridiculous things about giving yourself away and having trouble in this world and carrying a cross into the world’s darkness as He did in order to follow Him for love of Him and love of the world.
I wonder if anyone is actually listening when I pray? I have, after all, asked for many beautiful things that never came to pass, things that any sane person would want to occur, and have hurled words into the void of space, words that seemed to return home empty.
I wonder if God really does exist when much of the time the world around me and sometimes even my own heart says that He does not.
What do we do when we wonder?
Take the next step. Say the next prayer. Obey the next time. The only way to find out whether all of this is true is to try it, live it, do it.
Ask and you will be given. Seek and you will find. Draw near to Him and see if He will draw near to you. Ask for Him and see if He will come to you in ways that you alone can comprehend. Look for Him and see if you can see a light at the heart of this darkness. This is the only way to go on.
Speak your doubts out loud when your heart hears only echoing silence. “Do You know me even though I don’t know You?” is still a kind of prayer.
We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet. ~ Frederick Buechner
Is this a turning away from faith? Not at all. It is only moments and days, and sometimes weeks and months, that come to all of us who believe. This wondering is common to us all.
Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true. Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves. ~ Frederick Buechner
** A quick update: There seemed to have been a bit of confusion about our sweet Lily. I apologize if I didn’t make the end of the story clear! Gratefully, this time we were granted miracle. Lily is just fine and wondering what all the fuss was about! **
Love your neighbor.
Love your God.
Jesus said that this is most important.
Loving your neighbor is hard, yet we have seen our neighbor. Mostly we do not really see our neighbor, yet every now and then we catch a glimpse in their eyes, in the tilt of their head, in the stance of their bodies of something beautiful, something glorious, some divine spark within. And loving our neighbor as ourself at least gives us a familiar sort of standard to work toward. Yet loving our neighbor is still hard.
Loving God? This falls into a whole new category of difficulty. Loving God with all that we are and all that we are meant to become? We don’t even understand what that really means. Love God, Whom we have not seen. Love God Who wouldn’t show His face to Moses, but hid him in the cleft of a rock while He passed by and then allowed Moses to catch a glimpse of His back. How can we begin to fathom what this command means, much less become capable of obeying?
To love God not for what He can do for you, but for Himself alone. To want to be with Him, to want to do things for Him. In the midst of plenty, it is difficult to even catch a glimpse of God, much less love Him for Himself. And in the midst of the wilderness of pain or grief, it seems like this command is a command to sprint out of the wilderness while our legs are broken.
I watched my niece die this past Sunday, our beautiful one-year-old Lily, or so I thought. This time we were granted a miracle of life, but as I listened to Lily’s mommy sob in a way that I haven’t heard since I sat with my middle brother on the eve of his wife’s death, I knew that this story could have so easily had a different ending. And how do you love God when the worst has happened, when it feels as though your very life has been wrenched away from you? It could lead us to despair, this greatest command that we are not capable of obeying.
Yet at its heart the gospel is about God moving toward us, doing for us what we are incapable of doing on our own. We find hope in Jesus Who, in His abandonment by God still cries out “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” When life in all of its cruelty and beauty, when our daily cross, when even death itself cannot destroy our love for God because our love comes from God Himself, then we are empowered to move across our wilderness on our broken legs and we find that God has not only moved toward us but has swept us along toward Himself even in the middle of our fear that He has forsaken us, if He even does indeed exist.
Perhaps we find the most pure love in the middle of the wilderness because that is where we are left with nothing else but God. When the worst happens or almost happens, when we love Him in spite of all that is around us, when we love Him for His own sake because He is all that we have left, it is there that we are able to catch a glimpse of what it is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength because He has been in the wilderness with us.
The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. ~ Frederick Buechner