Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old22 unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. -- Lamentations 5:21-22
In our congregational Bible reading plan, we just finished the book of Lamentations, which records the prophet, Jeremiah, grieving over the fate of the nation, Israel. Jeremiah had watched in horror as they turned their back on God and experienced the inevitable consequence of their sin. I must confess, reading Lamentations, this time, was a bit different than previous times. I found myself relating at a new and different level.
Our nation is in trouble.
In the last few weeks, radical Islamic terrorists have carried out horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. In the past, our grief and indignation over this kind of thing would have unified our nation…at least for a time. But that’s not what’s happening. Not only can we not even agree on what is evil or good, public figures who issued messages of prayer and support were told to keep their prayers to themselves unless they adopted the political solution of their critics. The political animosity is so thick, it seems to trump even our sense of decency and humanity. As a nation we are losing our mind, which is really just a symptom of a far more serious condition.
We are losing our soul.
As a Christian and a pastor, I am deeply saddened and grieved by what I see. It is at this point that I feel some of Jeremiah’s pain. Watching your nation run from God and witnessing the resulting chaos is not fun. In fact, it’s heartbreaking.
However, just like Jeremiah, we know that the story is not over. We know that God is at work even in difficult times…maybe particularly in difficult times. Eugene Peterson astutely observed in Jeremiah's message that even judgment is “in the service of salvation.”* The last thing the church needs to do is despair. Rather, we need to recognize that the light of God’s hope burns even more brightly in a darkening world.
A few suggestions…
• Remember, God does some of His best work when things are at their worst. His kingdom and His church always seem to thrive in dark times.
• No matter what, follow Jesus…and expect to be moving against the cultural flow! But remember, the most powerful gospel message is the life of Jesus lived out in His people.
• Never discount the power of prayer! Prayer has been shown to change the course of nations. So pray!
Oh…and one more thing:
• Remember, the people who disagree with you are not the enemy. The gospel is never served by our vilifying those who disagree with us. Even worse is when we verbally attack other believers over the politics of the day. Jesus said that the proof that we are His followers would be our love for one another. The quality of our love for each other will either be our great strength or our greatest weakness.
This Christmas season, I find myself wondering if Jeremiah might have prayed something like this…
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
*Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses, InterVarsity Press, 1983, Pg 185