“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4-7).
I have been sitting at my desk staring at the blank space below these verses all morning. There have been days like today before, and there will be days like it to come. Death, disease, and destruction do not take a vacation in this world “under the sun.” And yet, it does not seem to make it any easier when THOSE days do come.
One of the first questions I pondered is this: How do I rejoice in lamentation, for surely what I see and hear are cause for lament. My heart aches as I watch what is transpiring in Afghanistan. I am taken back to those last days in Vietnam, with eerily similar visages. Human civilizations have meddled in other’s business for as long as there have been civilizations. Even in our recent history, we have a mixed bag of outcomes. There are the successes of Japan and South Korea, and several countries who have thrived in a post-USSR world. But for every Japan, South Korea, Germany and Poland, there is a Vietnam, North Korea, China, and Afghanistan.
And if that weren’t enough, watching the death-toll climb in the devastating earthquake in Haiti is another punch in the gut. This is a country who has lived in utter poverty, seen epic political corruption, and faced life-altering natural disasters. It would seem that there will be no more tears left.
And piled on to that is the continuing specter of the coronavirus. I have several friends who are struggling to stay alive as they battle this horrible disease. And at the same time, war has erupted in our culture, in our very midst over vaccinations, masks, etc. There seems to be no end to the physical, emotional, and relational damage that is being wrought over this.
And I am left staring, unable to deal with even the small amount of heartache and awfulness that I experience today. And I wonder, what am I to do? How am I to cry out in lament for all of this, and yet be joyful at the same time?
But then I am reminded of God’s mercies. We will look at the wondrous good news that comes to us even in the midst of heartache and distress. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lam. 3:22-24).
Yes, in my soul I can have hope, for the Lord is my portion. I can have it when I am tempted to say with the poet of Lamentations, “I have forgotten what happiness is…” When I know that the Lord is my portion, then I can understand that the circumstances of my life, or of the world around me, do not have to define who I am.
His mercies are indeed new every morning. Even today, in the midst of this awfulness, I got a wonderful picture of my oldest granddaughter on her first day of kindergarten. Even as the world seems to spin out of control, we continue on in the things that we are called to do and human beings. We muddle on in the mundane, knowing that all that is will not always be.
When I consider these things, I can weep over the desperation that encompasses the world, mourn the tragic loss of life, and wail over the trials that many of my brothers and sisters are facing in the midst of these things. But there is one thing more that I must do, and it is here that I can truly rejoice. I can, and must, pray.
Even as I pray for stability in Afghanistan, I lift up a fledgling church that is facing the onslaught of persecution. “Lord, be their protector and provider; enable them to be strong in the Lord. And allow those who are fleeing a safe passage.” And in Haiti, I can ask the creator of all things, even those tectonic plates that shifted to cause the destruction, to raise up help and supplies to meet their physical needs. And I can lift up my dear friends struggling to survive Covid19 by name with the confidence that God knows them far better, and that he cares for them.
And I can pray, as Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him: “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men” (2 Thess. 3:1-2). This becomes an extension of the prayer I utter week after week: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” May the light of the gospel bring hope in this hopeless world.