You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me! (Psalm 139: 15-18 NLV)
Roll over me, Cloud of Glory, majestic mountain of Light
Clothing the enthroned Godhead!
Touch me with the Fire that no Promethean labor avails
To impart but the Love-enflamed Spirit!
A spark from Thee to this dry timber of my heart
Would burn wiry vines of Satan’s lies, noxious fears,
Corrupted roots, and leave unharmed the tender growth
Of life reborn, fed by living water and the Word,
To fruition of Abundance, a banquet of Life Eternal
Before the Most High God!
So Thou has promised, so let me receive
The fulness of Thy outpouring
Grace upon grace
That loosens tongues of gladness
And sets free faith
Till Heaven opens
On this child of the King!
If you live in the world long enough, you will go through hard and painful times when, as the Psalmist writes, darkness seems your closest friend. The atheist and the Christian alike cry out, “Why?” Yet even when you know the answer is the fallen world in which we live, there is no satisfaction but what we most desire: help, release, escape from our anguish and circumstance, those things easily cried out for but often bitterly delayed.
As with Job, there seems no shortage of counsel to be got from trusted sources. “Offer your sufferings to God,” says one. But what does that mean? “Our hope lies in heaven, think on that,” says another. But does God then deny us help on this side of heaven? “The real miracle today is faith; the miracles of the New Testament have ceased and were for the early church.” But is that scriptural? Then the counsel most often given: “Pray and believe in the promises of the Bible.” But which ones, whose interpretation, and to what extent?
It’s the last piece of wisdom that troubles the most. If you are one of those least prone to truncate scriptural promises by rationalization, prepared to be as a child looking to the father, this one should give unmitigated hope:
The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. — James 5:15-16 (CSB)
But prayer, when uttered in the darkness, feels hopeless after many a cry and many a month or year has gone by:
I am like a man without strength,
abandoned among the dead.
I am like the slain lying in the grave,
whom you no longer remember,
and who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit,
in the darkest places, in the depths.
… But I call to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer meets you.
Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?
— Psalms 88:4-6, 13-14 (CSB)
Faith, even as it’s being tested, seems too feeble to do the job. The very struggle seems designed to undermine what little there is so that, like the man who came to Jesus pleading for his son’s deliverance, we are even inclined to doubt out Lord’s willingness or even power. We judge His resources, His compassion, by ours which lag behind to an infinite degree.
But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief! ”
— Mark 9:22-24 (CSB)
So where does that leave us? Not with the unwise words of comforters who say “yes & no” to the imperishable faith in God’s very present help. Not with words at all. After all, the last words of that most bleak psalm are, “Darkness is my only friend” (88:18). Yet the sense of hopelessness, even in the psalmist, is deceiving. There is hope. A glorious one.
The man who cried, “Help my unbelief!” was helped because he was looking straight into the face of Jesus. So too must we look not at ourselves or at the unwise words of our counselors who muddy up the waters of scripture according to their own doubts and fears, but to One who is the Light in our darkness.
As God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes and no.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you … did not become “Yes and no.” On the contrary, in him it is always “Yes.” For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:18-20 (CSB)
Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
— James 1:12 (CSB)
This morning I read chapters 12 through 14 in the book of Job, the words of a man alternately addressing God and his deluded comforters in the midst of his suffering. Immediately after, I read the first chapter of Luke. The juxtaposition of the two readings left a strange sensation, a net of chiaroscuro, light and shadow, the sunrise of salvation and the nihilism of pain.
Oddly, there came to my mind, Agatha Christie’s psychological novel, Absent in the Spring, and Shakespeare’s sonnet from which it drew its title.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
Caught in the pain of loss, the poet’s world is colored by it. What used to penetrate his senses with beauty now sharpens the knife’s edge of absence. Everything is a shadow of what it once was or ought to be and he is deeply aware of it.
Not so the narrator of the psychological Christie novel. She is absent to her own loss, that is, she doesn’t know what she’s missing. For a brief time an awareness of her loss, her failure to “be there” for those she claims to love, all of life that she’s failed to see and missed, cuts into her consciousness. Her grief is almost unendurable and she is overwhelmed by regret. She determines to change and make amends. But the moment passes like a mirage in the desert heat. She returns to her narcissistic life “absent” once again, oblivious to the misery of those who need her the most.
The pain of loss absorbs Job’s consciousness. But he engages with God through it all. While his “comforters” try to justify his suffering, Job goes straight to the One who can get him though it. He will not “curse God and die” as his wife advises. He will not absent himself to his suffering. He will neither deny it nor flee from it. Instead, in his suffering he looks for God. He remembers who God is. He knows that whatever the season, the summer of abundance or the winter of loss, God is unchanging, steadfast in love and faithfulness and sovereign in power. This knowledge emboldens Job and shores up his hope so that he doesn’t fall into the despair with which Satan tempts us during hard times.
It is the first chapter of Luke that puts it all in perspective. This is where Christ’s birth is announced. Zechariah breaks into a joyful song of expectation and Mary bursts into a paean of praise as her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Jesus’s birth breaks into history, the history of the world and our own personal history. His birth is pivotal to our understanding of temporal loss because His birth is the moment in time when the eternal becomes more real, more true, more present than absence caused by loss, whether the loss of health or loss through death.
His presence overtakes the absence. His reality in history, in the flesh, through His death and resurrection, overshadows everything. Eternity trumps the temporal. And by the word of God through the Holy Spirit we glean it daily as God who suffered here on earth suffers yet with us, making more real to us the glory that awaits us when we see Him face to face.
Praise God for that day!
Job 19: 25 (NASB)
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Hebrews 2: 14-15 (ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Yesterday I saw this on Twitter: I just wanna go home, wherever it is … The writer was a young Indian woman and an author with over 21K followers. But her age, background, and success at her vocation fades into irrelevancy beside the plaintive cry of her heart.
Those simple words struck through the heart of me because I remember as a child, sometimes, out of nowhere would come an inexplicable longing, and wherever I was, even if with my family at home, I too would say aloud to no one in particular: “I wanna go home.” And the moment I said it sadness would flood my soul and I would be reminded of the absence of something or someone vital to my well-being. But I couldn’t define what it was. Or who it was.
The thirsty drink from Thy waters
Which from Thy temple still flows
The waters of Thy glorious Spirit
That sweet faith in Thee bestows.
O may I drink forever deeply
Of this fount of love and life
Look to Thee when I am thirsty
For Thou alone can satisfy.
To ask Him if He sees, when He made the eyes
that angrily accuse;
To ask Him if He hears, when He made the ears
that ring with raging accusation;
To ask Him if He is mute, when He made the mouth
that spits hurt challenge;
To ask Him if He knows, cares, desires to stem
the flood of misery
When He knew, cared, desired enough to bear
To ask and then grieve to ask
And in my grief to fall abashed into waiting arms
again, and yet once again,
To ask, “O God, how great is Your lovingkindness!”
And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.1