How long is this pandemic going to last? How long until we are able to safely gather in our sanctuary for worship? How long until we can come together for our traditional thanksgiving dinner, until we can sing carols around a Christmas tree with a group of friends and strangers, until we can hug our sons and daughters, or our grandchildren?
How long are the fires going to burn? How long will tensions within
our nation keep us feeling on edge? How long is it going to take to count all the ballots? How long will it be until we can travel freely again, until our sense of unity is restored, until young people are all back on track with their education?
No one knows the exact answer to these questions. But we are not alone in asking them. The Bible itself echoes with the familiar cry of frustration:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? (Jeremiah 12:4)
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (Habakkuk 1.2)
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)
And it is not only God’s people who wonder, “how long?” It is also God! In Exodus 16:28, for example, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions?’” This is one of many instances reflecting God’s disappointment with people, and mirroring the people’s complaints about God.
The Bible reveals that the expression of deep dismay and fatigue has long been a facet of the relationship between God and humanity. But the asking of hard questions has never yet proven to be a permanent impediment to faithful action or a willing spirit. In fact, often the questioning outcries are followed ultimately by affirmations of sustenance and security. Returning to Psalm 13, we find in verses 5 and 6 this expression of gratitude: “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because God has dealt bountifully with me.”
In the Christian life, we are welcome to give voice to our distress because honest expression of feeling can open the door to reconciliation. I do not know “how long,” but I do know that God’s grace is with us still.
Until we meet again,