"Let my sighs and the manifold desolations of the earth move you..."
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
So I'm teaching a Bible study for the campus ministry that I'm part of. I'm trying to paint a picture of the Big Story of the Bible. The whole broad historical outline. A lot of times in church and wherever, we hear Bible stories as episodic, isolated incidents that have little to do with each other. They have a neat little moral at the end. Sometimes there's recurring characters, like "Moses and the burning bush" and then "Moses and the parting of the Red Sea" but of what these events have to do with each other in the life of Moses and how Moses relates to the experience of the Jewish people and then what that experience has to do with God, little is said.
One of the themes that recurs in the Bible is the idea of God as deliverer. The Israelites are sold into slavery, God delivers them through Moses. People are oppressed, God sends the Judges, or prophets, or whomever. The whole human race is killing itself, God sends Jesus. You get the picture.
Crap happens and God is there for us. To some people that may sound like a bad joke. "What about natural disasters like the tsunami in India, or hurricane Katrina? What about the Holocaust? Where was God then?" My only honest answer is I don't know. All I have is God's promise, and the knowledge that He hasn't let me down before. But I'm just one person in the world. How do I know He hasn't let someone else down?
My roommate, John, has kind of a unique nickname. We call him "Katrina John". He only moved here six months ago, from New Orleans. Do the math and figure out why we call him that. Recently he told me the story of how he came here after the hurricane, how at one point he thought his grandparents had been killed, how his family was split up, and he didn't know what happened to everyone. He told me how they made their way to family here, and how they didn't know if they'd have enough gas to make it from place to place. Later told me how he wants to be a minister, and serve God with his life.
It doesn't make any sense, sometimes, the way people of faith keep giving God the benefit of the doubt, the way we keep waiting for Him to come through. Maybe it's that we know something other people don't. Maybe we're stupid and foolish. Or maybe we just like the big Guy so much we're always willing to give Him another shot. I don't really know, sometimes.
There's a beautiful and poignant passage at the end of Habakkuk, a book of what Christians call the Old Testament, and which I am trying to call the Hebrew Scriptures. Habakkuk was a prophet, a man whose job in life it was to speak God's word. His people are being invaded by enemies, and he must try to comfort them. But he can't, really. He talks about how the bad guys, the oppressors, will eventually get theirs. But that's just his prediction. In the end, all he can say is this:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.
Like I said, it doesn't make sense. And rarely do I have that kind of faith. Rarely do I have that kind of trust in God. Rarely do I even have the wisdom to see that my olive crop is failing. My field do lie empty and barren. My life bears far too little fruit, and yet I should be rejoicing in the Lord. Instead I treat Him like the nerdy friend I am trying to get rid of. Lame.