How Long to Sing This Song?

Do you recognize the phrase, “How Long to Sing This Song?”?  It’s from U2’s song “40,” loosely based on Psalm 40.  I can’t say I understand the full meaning of the lyrics, but seeing as it was written during the time of conflict in Northern Ireland, that’s a big clue.

But I’m thinking, of course, about the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday.  It doesn’t matter whether the attack originated from halfway around the world or from some Boston native who was simply tired of one more marathon through his city—when an event elicits extreme fear and inflicts harm, it is in fact a terrorist attack.  And such attacks are on the rise.

How long, how long to sing this song?  Habakkuk, my favorite Old Testament prophet, asked the same question; but instead of tossing his question to the wind – as we are prone to do – he directed his query to the One who holds the answer:  “How long will the wicked prosper?  How long will You tolerate wrongdoing?  Why are You silent while we suffer at the hands of terrorists near and far? (chapter 1, my paraphrase).”

Then, after asking his bold questions, Habakkuk stood back and said, “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower.  I will watch to see what He will say to me” (2:1).  When we ask the tough questions, we should be prepared to wait on God and listen for the answer.  Listening in the silence is an intimate act of faith.  It implies that we trust the one of whom we are asking our questions.  Listen long enough, intently enough, sincerely enough, and we will hear God’s reply (my paraphrase):

  • I am sovereign.  I have the final say.  Nothing escapes My awareness.
  • I see the whole picture, you do not.  I allow suffering only for a season.
  • In My time, I will deal with all of the injustice in the world.
  • Trust Me, inexplicably and fully.

Like Psalm 40, U2’s song continues:

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and hear

Habakkuk arrived at the same conclusion when he said, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (3:19).

What can we make of this?  Is it possible to tread on high ground in the midst of turmoil and chaos?  Or is it disrespectful to those who are still suffering such terrible personal losses?  I don’t think Habakkuk meant let’s throw a party and celebrate while the world wallows in misery.  His resolution is one of hope, not of callous ignorance or indifference.

Another Old Testament writer, well acquainted with suffering and grief, came to his own “high place” after God finally answered his questions (after a long period of silence).  Job’s epiphany is still timely today.  As we turn on our TVs and listen to the latest casualty update from the Boston bombing, let’s allow Job’s words to sink into our hearts and minds:

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”

 

Evidence of Forgiveness-Part 2

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a man who owes a large sum of money to a local king.  When the king realizes the man cannot repay the debt, he orders him and his family to be sold into slavery until the debt is paid.  The man begged for more time, and the king had pity on him, cancelling his debt all together.  The man did not deserve it, but because of the king’s great compassion he forgave the debt anyway.  The man was free!  Not only that, his account had a zero balance…he could start life anew.

But the story continues.  After leaving his master, the man found his own countryman who owed him some money, grabbed him around the neck and choked him, demanding repayment of his loan.  This debtor also begged, but the man refused to have any mercy and had the debtor thrown into prison.  When the king heard this, he was outraged.  Calling the man whose debt he had forgiven into his presence, he said, “You wicked servant!   I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you?”

There’s a little more to the story, and it’s really important so I encourage you to read on.  But I stopped at verse 33 to illustrate a point.  When we truly understand the magnitude of our debt and that by trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are utterly forgiven, I mean really understand it, the knowledge changes our hearts and our lives, our attitudes and behaviors.

It’s easy to forget what forgiveness really means.  Being married, raising children, living with family, getting along with neighbors and coworkers, all require continual acts of forgiveness.  We think we know what forgiveness is.  But every once in a while a person comes along who is dishonest, manipulative, spiteful, belligerent or just plain mean.  Maybe we try to reason with the person, make amends, but our efforts are completely rebuffed and we are belittled in the process.  We can never forgive that person now, nor do we feel the need to.  Because he/she doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.

Oh, my, now we are touching the essence of forgiveness, for true forgiveness means forgiving even those – especially those – who do not deserve it.  THIS is the point of Jesus’ parable:  When we really ‘get’ the depths of our own depravity and sin toward God and misbehavior toward our fellow humans, and when we truly grasp that God has completely wiped our slates clean (assuming we have placed our faith in Him)…such forgiveness compels us to forgive others in the same way.  Including those who don’t deserve it.

Notice I didn’t say “should compel us.”  When we finally get the whole picture, when we are transformed by the knowledge of God’s total forgiveness of our sins, with the help of the Holy Spirit the revelation DOES compel us to forgive others.  I daresay, if we still cling tightly to our secret grudges, it probably means we don’t truly grasp the ‘dirtiness’ of our own sin or the totality of God’s forgiveness.

Make this a matter of prayer today.  Ask God to gently show you the greatness of your own debt and offense, and then reveal to you the wonderful, far-reaching, everlasting totality of His forgiveness.

More to come.

Death of an Enemy

I got up early this morning, to knit for a while and consider Osama bin Laden’s death.  My own elation at the news, first delivered to us last night by my daughter, was palpable, and that makes me a bit squeamish.  Do I have the right to celebrate, albeit quietly, the death of another human being?

Osama Bin Laden was a mass murderer of thousands.  My heart breaks whenever I hear of even one innocent whose life has been taken by another…even if the dead is a stranger to me.  But for having killed fellow Americans on 9/11, Bin Laden is my own national enemy.  I am glad he is gone.  Is this a sin?Read More