It’s a quiet day at the desk here. I’m minding the phones but my mind is in a faraway place, pondering great human suffering and the broken, dismal bleakness of our world. I made the mistake this morning of reading a book I found in a pile our receptionist left behind. It is a fiction-ish narrative about a Holocaust survivor and I knew that it would be dangerous, one of those can’t-put-it-down novels that will leave me thinking down a hole and feeling heavy sadness for a while.
My heart shuts down at the brutality of human beings and the atrocious horrors experienced by real people in real time, fellow image-bearers who all had names and faces and favorite colors and loves and special talents and unique laughter. All I can say is, “Lord…?” There really aren’t words for such things.
In the darkest events of human history, it’s easy to shove them under the rug and move on. It’s much harder to linger in those painful places and reflect, remember, and lament. Yes, it feels powerless, as there isn’t anything I can do to change the millions who were brutally murdered, youth stolen, innocence burned away. It’s powerful enough to even shake your faith a little, wondering what on earth God was up to and how could this have happened. To what end?
At the same time, God is more familiar with human evil and suffering than we will ever understand. He is perfect; how much more does He mourn and weep at our sinfulness and evil hearts? His Son is the one who carried our sin and died on the cross, bearing out the full cup of God’s judgement and wrath upon Himself; how much more does He understand the atrocity of our twisted darkness? He has always been present with His people, working in and among believers to reach His Chosen ones with the gospel and the message of Messiah. There are testimonies of His precious gospel birthing new life in the hearts of men and women as they lived through death in the concentration camps, stories of His people bringing the light and how He worked wonders in hell and how He brought them deeper to Himself in ways that cause me to marvel. You’ll have to dig a little to find them, but they stand firm in the waves upon waves of darkness.
Consequently, I’m in the middle of a few other books right now (classic me). One is a providential free book I received in the mail today from a partner organization about finding hope in the Psalms, specifically the sorrowful Psalms 88 and 89. It’s a collection of sermons by Ligon Duncan, and when I finished the Holocaust book I was numbed, trying to figure out how to process what I just read. And here God provided. It’s called When Pain is Real and God Seems Silent. How divinely appropriate for today.
My other two books are missionary autobiographies of women who suffered great tragedies during WWII, thrown into prison and tortured in Japanese prison camps for their faith. They lost much. And yet I am struck by their unwavering devotion to Jesus, how brightly their faith shone in the filthiest cells and jungle camps. They prayed incessantly, always seeking to share the gospel with their captors and praise God in the midst of it all for His blessings and goodness. They were my age – Darlene Deibler Rose and Esther Ahn Kim – missionaries and evangelists, daughters, sisters. Esther was weak and frail, Darlene was a farm girl from Iowa. I can’t wait to meet them and tell them their testimonies fed my soul.
My birthday was last week, and every year for my birthday I always write down a prayer of commitment to the Lord, proclaiming my trust in Him and committing my next year of life into His care. I also prayed that He would help me be braver. I am afraid of so many things, and I want to have courage instead in the face of this evil world. I want to have deep faith that will not be shaken and the sweetness of knowing Him. I know He will carry me through whatever and lead me through whatever; there is always a glorious end for His saints, and my home is where He is. I ask Him to help me take heart each day and to remind me that He is my, and for all who believe in Him, Good Shepherd.
We all cry out in these chaotic times for the Lord to come, have mercy, deliver us, make all things new. These are prayers I have prayed daily in the past five months. While the Lord tarries, we won’t be able to fully comprehend or understand fully what on earth is going on here. We have some answers, not all, but that is not an excuse to brush away suffering or rush past lament. I find kinship with my mournful Psalmist worshipers today as I reflect on all these things and thank God we can talk honestly with Him. We can cry out to Him, and we can believe His promises that goodness and light and perfect, perfect justice are coming at His righteous hand. Praise God. I’m not sure how else we’d get by in this world without Him.