And that’s not all. We are full of joy even when we suffer. We know that our suffering gives us the strength to go on. The strength to go on gives us character. Character gives us hope. And hope will never let us down. God has poured His love into our hearts. Romans 5:3-5
I have nothing. I stare at these words, phrased in the simplest of English for the English Language Learner, and my sad little heart is filled with disbelief. Is this really true, or are they just the words of a delusional man?
And I read on and on, in my snatched-prayer-and-open-the-Bible-and-plop-a-finger method this morning, sitting in a dark cabin in the silence of Mt. Lemmon. All of these words, that this morning feel like empty words, describing Abraham’s faith, the faith that was counted to him as righteousness. It was a faltering faith, not cut and dried and clear. Thus Ismael. And the ramifications of that waver filling our headlines even today.
So where is this elusive joy, this they-seek-him-here-they-seek-him-there-this-dammed-elusive-Pimpernel joy? The consider it all joy brethren, when you encounter various trials and tribulations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces righteousness joy? The rejoice, I say it again, rejoice, let everyone see that you are unselfish and kind in all that you do joy? And the fruit of the Spirit is love joy peace. Against such there is no law joy? Surely since from a child I have known the Scriptures, which are able to make me wise unto salvation. Surely.
And this morning I am looking for the strength to go on. Perseverance. Where is the bottom? The place of absolute brokenness upon which to build a new foundation of hope? The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; and a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. The lair of Shelob, down, down, down, clasping my little light.
And snatches of garbled choruses bounce around my aching me, my aching heart, my aching soul, my aching mind: No, no, I will never let go through the highs and through the low. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Well. That old David, or whoever wrote all these Psalms, at least gave me words to wrap around the ache, the my-bed-is-made-of-tears sorts of words. And I remember the last time I got stuck in the Psalms, those long, long days and weeks and months and years after Mexico, I always marveled at how in the midst of the cry and the lament and supplication and when the spirit was overwhelmed within, in the end, the song would always turn to a declaration: Thou knewest the path. I cried to Thee, O LORD; I said, “Thou art my hope and my portion in the land of the living.”
And this is what comforts me. Sometimes Paul’s hope sounds pie-in-the-sky hope, like when it-is-all-said-and-done hope, and right now I am more interested in the hope here in the Land of the Living. A hope that will carry me through the grading of essays and creating lesson plans, a hope that will help me smile through the Fall Frolic picnic with all those very aged saints waiting to cross that last river, and a hope that will help me pass out water bottles for Cyclovia tomorrow morning. The Land of the Living.
When my spirit was overwhelmed in me, then thou knewest the path. -The Holy Bible from ancient manuscripts, Containing the Old and New Testament translated from the Peshitta, The Authorized Bible from the Church of the East
And I had a lightbulb moment with one of my most thoughtful students yesterday as she was trying to tie up the 18-line epic poem I was requiring her to write about Odysseus’ journey through Hades (btw what kind of assignment is that, one might wonder). And she was trying to craft the ironic concluding couplet complete with a keening. Why oh why would the Greeks, as they were telling these tales to pass along their heroic values and worldview to the next generations, why would they include this pretty weird bit about walking through the dark path filled with all who have gone before?
And she smiled, because Odysseus was gathering their collective wisdom just before he headed on to his biggest task, the task of reclaiming his home and his wife and casting out all of those awful suitors. And what a gift it is to be able to join those who have gone before us through those shadowed valleys to become wise unto salvation. While we are yet in the land of the living.
And we talked a little it about how the word “travel” comes from the same root as “travail” and maybe she could work that into the couplet, and I sent her on her way.
Wow. And thinking to the day before, when I was walking a very different student through this same couplet. Somehow in the mysteries of the cursed burden of group work, one of Desert’s international students, the Muslim kid from the part of China that borders way up north with Mongolia got stuck with this same couplet assignment. So he had put together some sentences about death for me to look over and it was all about his fear of death because he isn’t sure how God will judge him, if he has done more good deeds or more bad deeds, and what a scary thing that is. So I talked to him, and I said Really, this is your Big Question of the year, Yusef. Who is the LORD God Almighty? Is He a holy God who is angry because we can never measure up? Or is He a holy God who even though He knows that we will never measure up, still loves us? Who loves us so much that He took on the form of a man to pay the penalty of our sin? That is your question, Yusef, is God a God of Love?
And, yes, that is my Big Question as well. For this day, for this year that has no fast forward button, for this life in the Land of the Living? Is this Almighty God a God of Love?
God has poured His love into my heart. According to the riches of His glory may He grant me to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in my inner being.