“How little we have, I thought, between us and the waiting cold, the mystery, death–a strip of beach, a hill, a few walls of wood or stone, a little fire–and tomorrow’s sun, rising and warming us, tomorrow’s hope of peace and better weather . . . What if tomorrow vanished in the storm? What if time stood still? And yesterday–if once we lost our way, blundered in the storm–would we find yesterday again ahead of us, where we had thought tomorrow’s sun would rise?”
That’s from Robert Nathan’s
What impresses me right now is the fact that the Bible offers no quick-fit solution or glib retort like a stick-on plaster, but rather a nod to the journey that has to be undertaken from shock and fear, anxiety and grief towards trust and peace and perhaps, even hope.
Think of the journey undertaken by the disciples walking to Emmaus (in Luke 24) after seeing their beloved leader tortured and killed before their eyes. They are so devastated with grief that they blunder in the storm, and fail to recognise the One who comes to walk with them.
It reminds me of that awful scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Aslan is killed. C.S.Lewis writes: “I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.”
I read the same sense of numb shock in Psalm 13. Once more, it’s a journey:
“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:2).
That’s the first part of the journey: the churning of emotions and the wrangle of thoughts; and the identification of a real Enemy who seems to be always winning. It’s a true picture of the world of that old song:.
“When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be…”
The thought with which I myself used to wrestle, in dark days, was along this familiar track: How could a good and powerful God allow evil to triumph?
Many get stuck on that part of the journey, failing to engage with the Christian narrative that runs from Genesis to Revelation and that yields a crosss as the symbol of its community. That is to say, the person and work of Jesus is entirely connected with that apparent triumph of evil, with the brutal conditions of our living “when troubles come”, with our blunderng in the storm of crisis.
Rob Bell put it this way:
“Our tendency in the midst of suffering is to turn on God. To get angry and bitter and shake our fist at the sky and say, “God, you don’t know what it’s like! You don’t understand! You have no idea what I’m going through. You don’t have a clue how much this hurts.”
The cross is God’s way of taking away all of our accusations, excuses, and arguments.
The cross is God taking on flesh and blood and saying, “Me too.”
God is “Emmanuel.” He is entirely and eternally with us, walking the road of our doubt and anxiety, explaining the scriptures and revealing his total empathy. He is with us.
And even though it was penned a thousand years before, that consciousness of God’s presence is the reason that Psalm 13 can continue the way it does, in its declaration that God is always faithful and that our trust in God is never unfounded: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6)
This isn’t a facile optimism, but a statement of faith. “We do sorrow,” said Paul (in 1 Thess 4:13) “but not like those who have no hope.” We grieve for loss and heartache, we grieve and rage against injustice, stupidity, folly and wickedness wherever we see it. We mourn with those that mourn, and bear the burdens, as best we can, of those overwhelmed with the weight of it. But we are not crushed by hopelessness.
Even Gandhi recognised that, in an oft-quoted remark: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”
And for me, as a believer in the God of Jesus, I too want to stand for “the way of truth and love.” And even as we sorrow, we also dare to hope.