I can’t tell you the last time I watched the news — CNN, Fox, MSNBC, or otherwise. The reason for this is twofold. Mostly because my time’s spent on other things or with more important people. But the primary reason is because I don’t have room for the dreadful topics that make up the bulk of the headlines. Concerned believers might shrink from the notion of not staying “current.” Others might offer the counsel that it’s my “Christian responsibility” to know what’s going on in the world. And maybe that’s true. Maybe I should be more “adult.” But mostly my immature reply to that is, “Fooey.”
Watching the headline news is less informative as it is demoralizing. Staring at a 24-hour newscast for any length of time sends a rather bleak shadow across our eyes. A chronic darkness dims everything we do, and see, and say thereafter. These desolate days are rife with discord and bereft of peace. Violence is riddled through every story. Racism is as pervasive as ever. Rampant adultery and immorality tears families and lives apart, leaving innocent youths in the aftermath. Bullies are still making their presence felt, physically or virtually, but always personally. Unborn sons and daughters are still being murdered without cause. Every day — every hour, in fact — we see and hear more evidence of humanity’s depravity and vileness than we’d ever need to prove that we are, in fact, debased, shameless, and severely warped creatures who’ve wandered far from what we were made for. If you just look around or look at your newsfeed, it would appear that things are so bad, even, that it’s almost as if there’s no hope at all.
Some have therefore postulated that God has forgotten us. Or at the very least, he’s ignoring us. It appears from the outside as though this God, whoever he is and wherever he may be, is rather indifferent or uninterested in our affliction. How else can you explain his prolonged silence? Is God just refusing to intervene? Why is he sitting on his hands as my life crumbles and our world wastes away? Maybe the Deists were right. Maybe God’s just an absent deity with no real investment or interest in his creation. Maybe God just created this world and left it alone to it’s own vices. Maybe he just wound up this expansive universe and left it to watch it spin itself into oblivion.
But those who know and believe the Bible understand this to be untrue. By merely studying ancient and even recent history, one’s able to conjure enough unflappable evidence to conclude that God’s very much a part of this universe, seen or felt or not. Yet as the scandals swell and the violence balloons out of control, it’d seem that the entire world, let alone the entire nation, is on the brink of annihilation. Even if God is still involved in the workings and turnings of the world, surely his wrath is bubbling and boiling, set to erupt at any moment, right? Like Vesuvius, God’s been relatively quiet for awhile, it’d seem — so it’s only a matter of time before his righteous fury comes to a head and explodes.
So the earthly logic runs. Watching the news doesn’t argue much to the contrary. It doesn’t engender much in the way of pride. Actually, I believe it generates a feeling more akin to Frodo Baggins in Tolkien’s Return of the King, where he laments to his comrade, “I can’t do this, Sam.” In the fury of war, Frodo (at least in Peter Jackson’s retelling) mourns his current state of affairs. The dreariness and drudgery that surrounded he and Sam must’ve felt too overwhelming to bear. A feeling I’m sure that the psalmist was all too familiar with.
King David, the writer of a vast majority of the psalms, was well acquainted with grief and suffering. Much of his adult life was spent on the run, with his very life on the line. He scrambled to survive, sleeping in caves and hiding in shadows. His life was one of constant running, never having a physical foundation to rest on but only one of faith. In Psalm 30, David is recounting a glorious deliverance at the hand of his almighty Father. He tells of the One who healed him and spared him and brought him up from the Pit. (Ps. 30:2*3) It’s clear that whatever David was enduring as he wrote this psalm, it was a deep, dark season in his life. It was a time of mourning and weeping. A time of serious depression and discouragement. He was in the midnight of his soul, seeing only bleakness and darkness.
I think many Christians are in this same state as they watch the news and read the headlines. Looking into the eyes of the boy of Aleppo, I’m there too. To be honest, I still get emotional every time I see this photo. The unspoken but boisterous emotion that’s conveyed by this little boy’s face is palpable, visceral. “Shock and awe” may be a military term that’s used as a conversational and deliberation tool for suits and pencil pushers seeking to make headway with their particular agenda. But when you actually see “shock and awe” in real life, when you see the raw aftermath of war and unedited devastation, something different comes over you. It has to, or you’re not human.
A lot of thoughts come to mind when I look at that photo. But perhaps the chief one is the same one that’s on everyone else’s minds right now. Not only taking into account this disturbing scene from the fighting in the Middle East, but also the current state of affairs in the U.S. political realm, the rampant sexualizing of American youth, the exacerbated use of alcohol to cover the burgeoning woes and stresses of life, the flagrant disregard for morality, the unapologetic regression of civil rights, etc. — looking at all that, the one question that undoubtedly comes to mind is, “Where is God?” Where’s God in all of this? I’m confident I’m not the only one asking this question. At times, this query pulls my soul into a similarly bleak place with the psalmist. Sometimes I can’t make sense of the deep tragedies that never stop and the grace I cling to for salvation. Where is God in these dark times? Where is the One who’s sovereign during this haunting season of history? Why has the Creator gone silent?
But then I’m made to realize that it’s not God who’s gone silent. It’s us who’ve wandered from him. It’s us who’ve plugged our ears from hearing his “still, small voice,” even as he seeks to speak to us in the midst of our suffering. It may appear as though God’s face is hid. But it’s we who’ve turned our eyes from him. And so long as our backs eclipse God’s light, we’ll forever be stumbling in the darkness. (John 11:10)
To you, Christian, I give a message of hope — one that I must preach to myself. As dark as it may seem to be right now, take heart, because the morning is coming. Lift up your eyes and look to the sun because it soon will rise. The night is only so long. The darkness won’t always persist. The rage you see will give way to peace. The terror you feel will dissipate in relentless love. The violence you see will soon wear out and quiet will take it’s place. Don’t give up the hope of the morning. Don’t let your confidence be shaken by the whims of fallible man. “Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5) Joy is coming. Let hope reign, for that is the sunshine of your faith. “There never was a night so long that the day did not overtake it,” writes John Angell James. “There never was a morning without it’s morning star. There never was a day without it’s sun.” (161)
God’s gospel of grace speaks to us in such a state as we are — however dark and dismal that may be. What makes the good news so inestimably good is that it reaches into the gloomy crevices of our lives to speak life and peace to us. The mercy of God meets us in the midst of our mess. The God of hope greets those who are hopeless. Whatever degree of divine anger you see and feel right now, know that it “lasts only a moment.” But grace and love are forever. (Ps. 30:5) Like Frodo, you may feel lost and disillusioned with the chaos that swirls around you. You, too, may sense a darkness in this world that seems to make every endeavor hopeless and futile. But fortunately, like Frodo, we aren’t left to wallow in this despairing state. We, too, are greeted with an interrupting sermon of hope.
Frodo: “I can’t do this, Sam.”
Sam: “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”
Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
For you, Christian, you’re holding on to something far better than some “good in this world.” You’re holding on to the promise that your “clothes of mourning” will be replaced with garments of gladness! (Ps. 30:11) Soon, the lamenting will be replaced with dancing; our crying with praising; our night with his day. In the twinkling of an eye, God’s covenant will be fulfilled and all our grief will be turned into rejoicing. All that is bitter will be made sweet. And all that is desolate will be made to bloom once again.
The drop of hope that’s in you is because of God’s assurance. His Word tells us that “his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor, a lifetime.” (Ps. 30:5) Soon, the full brilliance of that favor will be yours to enjoy forever. Soon, we’ll all be lifted up to his heavenly home and the earth will be rightly healed, completely made new. The joy of the morning is at hand. The sun will come and shine in all it’s tremendous effulgence, breaking the darkness and beating it back to hell. That sun — that Son — comes and invades our darkness to bring forth his wondrous light. “That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5) — and that light is Jesus! Indeed, we can be hopeful because it’s in this ominous darkness that the light shines all the brighter.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Ps. 112:4)
Your night may not be over, but the morning is at hand. The enemies of light will be pushed back to the darkness. Those on the fringes will be brought near, under the covert of God’s wings. The oppressed will be delivered. The dark cloud may still be overhead, but there’s a light seeping through. And with this light comes hope manifest — the essence and genesis of all life, hope, and grace: the Son of Righteousness, Christ the Lord. On him, in him, and to him, forever hope.
- John Angell James, Christian Hope (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1858).