But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
I believe our knowledge of history matters. Following the thread of humanity over time tends to illuminate our real nature doing away with our humanistic optimism. It’s disillusioning at first: recounting the wars, the vast errors and evils across time–there are no heroes. If humans are good at anything, it is cruelty, oppression, and apathy. Certainly we are innovative, but it’s often driven by our lust for power or pride, and it isn’t long before our creativity, however good intentioned it begins, is warped into something used for unspeakable evil.
Sometimes as I pour over our history that’s littered with racial genocides, murderous greed, oppression, deceit, and sanctimony, I wonder, Where is God?
Or when I look at our current days full of ageistic genocide–thinly veiled under “reproductive rights”–continued war, an industry built off sexual exploitation, and old sins justified by new language, I find the Psalmists words repeat as truly today as they did so many years ago:
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has he forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up compassion?
I find I’m thankful the Bible holds hard words like these, giving voice to the feelings that rise up so easily, and I’m even more thankful for the words that follow them:
I will remember the deeds of the LORD
yes I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work;
and meditate on your mighty deeds
You are the God who works wonders.
That’s the benefit of looking back: we not only see ourselves for who we are, but we also see God for who he is, and he does away with our pessimism too. When we look back we can see his hand at work like a single silver thread in a vast, dark tapestry, a glimmer of hope in every human failure.
As William Blake penned:
Joy and Woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
He’s there, that silken twine of Joy. The psalmist finds him as he looks back and remembers God parting waters, defying Egyptian gods, and pursuing faithfully an ever-faithless people. The psalmist remembers what God has done and in so doing he hopes in his promise: one day it will all be new. One day the oppressed will be justified, the weary strengthened, the suffering comforted, and the truth affirmed. One day. The psalmist can’t help looking forward as he looks back.
So I too look back:
Remembering that humans are humans in every epoch; a mixed up, chaotic force, full of good intentions badly enacted, wicked hearts freely hurting. We’re a mess.
But I look back again:
Remembering God, who is sovereign, patient, and loving. I see how his hand works in places most unexpected in both the history of the world, and in my own small history. As I struggle with new anxieties, he puts my heart at rest. As I feel the weary grind of another day, he softens my heart toward my children and grants me patience. As I hear my sons talk to him, I hear him becoming their closest friend, as he is mine. As I pray with dear friends, I hear his words repeated aloud by the mouth of someone else he’s touched. As I hold my sleeping daughter in my arms, I see new life that he created. I see how his hand has worked in me in these last ten years, from a confused, directionless 20-year-old, to a wife and mother of three with a daily purpose found in him. There’s no explanation of who I am today except by his gracious work in my life.
Most importantly I look back to a singular day in history:
Remembering him held up on a tree; bleeding, dying, suffering for me.
And like the psalmist, looking back I can’t help but look forward; waiting, because one day it will all be different. We’re in what Paul calls the pains of childbirth–I know them well–it hurts and feels like you’re dying, like nothing could ever possibly be right again, and then suddenly, in a single glorious moment there’s a cry: Life!
New life is coming. It’s like a beam of light we can’t quite grab hold of now, but one day we’ll hold it, perfect, unchangeable, life everlasting.
Until then, our faith, hope and love? They’re all in the waiting.