Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Nahum published by Tom Vander Well in August of 2021. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.
The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.
Nahum 1:7-8 (NIV)
The world has watched in horror the past week-and-a-half as Afghanistan quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. No matter which side of the political aisle one stands, and setting aside the argument of whether NATO forces should have been at all, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life under the Taliban. It’s been hard to read and hear the eye-witness accounts. A woman shot in the street for not wearing a burka. Another woman burned alive because she was considered a bad cook. When a mother is willing to throw her own baby over barbed-wire in an effort to ensure that he/she will have a life elsewhere, it tells me something.
Much of the story of what we refer to as the Old Testament is really about how one people, the Hebrews, lived and survived throughout several centuries in which one empire after another sought to control the world: Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.
The ancient prophet, Nahum, lived in a time when the Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had seen to-date. Its capital city, Nineveh, was the largest city on the planet. He was probably writing his prophetic poems during the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal (see featured photo). The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. Ashurbanipal’s records speak of him flaying enemies (removing the skin off of bodies) and draping the human skins over piles of corpses and city walls. The Assyrian armies would leave piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies impaled on stakes as calling cards telling everyone they’d been there.
Enter Nahum, a prophet who both seeks to comfort his people and encourage them to trust God, but who most warns the Assyrians/Nineveh that God will see to it that their mighty empire will fall. In today’s opening poem, Nahum establishes God as both kind and stern. He predicts Ninevah’s fall and Judah’s joy when it does.
The Great Story is layered with recurring themes. Justice is definitely one of them, and Nahum is a mouthpiece for God’s message that the mighty empire of Assyria/Nineveh with its record of violent oppression and brutality will not last. Their just downfall is coming. But that same message also exists on a grand scale of the larger eternal epic of the Great Story. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He tells His followers that “the prince of this world stands condemned.” The end of the Great Story is about eternal justice on a cosmic scale. Wrongs are made right. Justice prevails. Love wins.
In the meantime, the story continues. The journey goes on, and the kingdoms of this world perpetuate injustice, violence, and brutality. Jesus tells His followers to be agents of a very different Kingdom marked by blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, the mourning, peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted. He asked me to be marked not by power, anger, vengeance, violence, hatred, but love that is manifested in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey, and that faith includes believing that justice will prevail, just it did for Nahum. After Ashurbanipal’s reign the Assyrian Empire quickly fell apart. Its decline was swift and historians argue to this day how could so quickly fall apart and recede. So, I believe, the end of the Great Story will come just as prophesied.
In the meantime, I press on doing what I can to act justly and with love. One simple agent of a different Kingdom journeying amidst the kingdoms of this world in faith that justice will ultimately prevail, and that Love wins.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17 (NRSVCE)
For anyone who does not know the story behind David’s song, known to us as Psalm 51, it is critical in order to have a complete understanding of the lyrics.
First of all, David had been the “good guy” his entire life journey. As a boy God declared him “a man after my own heart” and God chose David, through the prophet Samuel, to be God’s anointed king. David killed Goliath. David refused to raise his hand against King Saul and wait for God to fulfill the promise to give him the throne. David did everything right. David was devout. David was faithful. David was sincere. David was God’s man through-and-through.
Until he wasn’t.
The Reader’s Digest version is this: From the roof of his palace he creeped out on a beautiful young woman taking a bath on a nearby rooftop. David used his power to find out who she was. She was the wife of one of David’s soldiers, but the army was out on a military campaign and David knew it. David used his influence as King to invite her over. They had a one night stand. She ended up pregnant, and now a “no harm no foul” fling became a potentially Monica Lewinsky level political scandal.
The first step in the cover-up was to create the illusion of normal. David uses his commander-and-chief authority to give the woman’s husband, a soldier named Uriah, a special leave to come home and take a break from the action. It turns out, however, that Uriah was a “good guy” and a “man of integrity” like David had always been. Perhaps David had been his role model. Uriah, thinking of all his buddies on the front-line who didn’t get to come home and sleep with their wives, refuses to even go into his house.
Ironically, Uriah’s integrity leads to David’s further descent into depravity. To avoid his moral failure from coming to light and the scandal it would create, David sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed message to his general in the field. The message orders his general to place Uriah into the thick of the battle, order his fellow soldiers to abandon him, and ensure Uriah has an “honorable” death.
Uriah is buried with military honors. David makes a big deal out of caring for the widow of one of his soldiers by agreeing to marry and take care of her. Scandal averted and David is given the opportunity to improve his polling numbers and maintain his “good guy” image. David gets away it. No one is the wiser.
God sends a prophet named Nathan to visit the King who regales David with the story of a wealthy land baron and sheep farmer who stole the only lamb of the poor tenant farmer next-door. David, angered, assures Nathan that the evil land baron will be forced to pay the victim back with four lambs for the one that was stolen.
Then Nathan informs David that the whole story was a metaphor and that he is the land baron in the story. He had a palace full of wives and thought he could steal poor Uriah’s wife and cover the whole thing up. David is devastated and has to own up to what he has done. He pours out his guilt and plea for forgiveness into a song.
If you’ve never read Psalm 51 in the context of this story, I encourage you to take the minute or two required to read the lyrics of the song in their entirety right now while the story is fresh in your head.
One of the interesting things about this chapter-a-day journey is the experience of coming upon chapters that I know really well, and have read countless times in the past 40 years. Do they have any fresh layers of meaning for me at this particular waypoint of life’s journey?
As I read this morning I kept hearkening back to one of David’s psalms from a couple of weeks ago. I went back to Psalm 26 in the quiet this morning and read it again:
Vindicate me, O Lord,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.
Wow. What a contrast.
I know Psalm 51 really well. It’s tatted on my left bicep as a reminder. I have a chapter of my own story that is a rough parallel of David’s. I was the “good guy” who everyone knew was a Jesus freak, a moral puritan, and who walked the straight-and-narrow. I’m sure I was even guilty of waxing self-righteously in my own way like David did in Psalm 26. Then I found myself in a place I swore I’d never be found. I had my own Psalm 51 moment.
Along this spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that I never really understood and experienced grace, forgiveness, and mercy until I hit rock-bottom and the veneer of self-righteousness was peeled away like the striking of a stage set. Like David, it came much further along in my journey, but I can now look back realize how important, make that essential, my own mistakes were in teaching me humility, empathy, mercy, and grace.
I enter another work week this morning soberly reminded of my own need of grace, as well as my need to extend it to others having their own Psalm 51 moments.
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
Psalm 6:6 (NRSVCE)
This past week I was in the dentist’s chair. Neither Wendy nor I had braces when we were young, and we both have some dental issues as a result, so we’re finally pulling the trigger on doing Invisalign and doing it together. So if my voice sounds a little strange on my podcast for the next year, know that it’s because all of my teeth are wrapped in plastic!
Anyway, my dentist and I got into an interesting conversation that started when he asked me how long I’ve been doing this chapter-a-day blog. I don’t think he expected to hear that it has been fourteen years! We then proceeded to talk about some short posts that he has been writing and posting on social media, which I’ve been reading and enjoying very much. He then shared with me that he found himself with these things he was feeling and thinking that he “had to get out.” I couldn’t help think of the prophet Jeremiah when used the metaphor of the message God was giving him being a “fire shut up in my bones” that just has to get out.
Today’s chapter, another song lyric by King David, is one of the examples I have used when I tell people that the psalms read like the blues. I’m sure that the ancient music didn’t sound anything like the blues, but I’m quite certain that Robert Johnson or Jonny Lang would identify with David’s spirit and could do something amazing with the same lyrics.
In both the cases of my dentist, and King David, the same theme has contrasting lessons to teach. Sometimes, there is stuff inside that I’ve just got to get out. With the former, there is something positive inside that needs to come out because others need to hear it, learn from it, be inspired, encouraged, or comforted by it. In the latter case, there is negative energy shut-up within that needs to be exorcised and expressed so that it can’t do spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational damage that always occurs when I suppress and hold in my shame, loneliness, fear, anxiety, anger, pain, frustration, grief, hurt, [insert your own negative emotion here].
Wendy and I are opposites when it comes to handling negative emotions. As an Enneagram Eight, Wendy tends to explode with volcanic eruptions of emotion that often run hot like lava. But she exorcises those emotions quickly and then quickly settles and becomes solid rock again. As an Enneagram Four, I tend to broodingly hold the negative emotions as they boil and churn deep in my heart until daily life begins to tremor and toxic fumes start seeping out in my words and actions. It sometimes takes Wendy, or one of my close companions, to consciously drill down with me in order to release the crap that needs to be released.
Along my life journey, I’ve both experienced in myself and observed in others the tragic consequences of suppressing and holding in the toxic shit that builds up as we walk through life and relationship. I love David’s lyrical laments because they remind me of two things. First, I need to get out the crap I’m feeling even though it might be negative, raw, and even toxic. Better to get it out than to let it wreak havoc in my life. Second, God is not surprised by nor worried about my emotional crap any more than I am worried when my two-year-old grandson goes into full-tilt tantrum mode for the silliest of reasons. I totally believe that God looks at me in full tantrum mode and says the same thing to me that I’d say to Milo: “Get it out, little dude. Then take a nap. You’ll feel better.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Luke 4:24-27 (NIV)
There are many things I don’t understand in this world. Along my life journey, I have regularly been perplexed at the seeming lack of fairness in life. Like most contemplatives, I am perplexed as to why one person experiences great fortune and another person experiences great tragedy. Even as a follower of Jesus, I have been struck at the incredible diversity in stories and spiritual paths. One person’s life journey appears to be a stroll down Easy Street while another’s is a painful slog down a muddy path riddled with potholes, switchbacks, and roadblocks.
In today’s chapter, Jesus not only acknowledges this reality but also affirms it. As we pick up the story after Jesus is baptized by John, He heads on a sojourn into the wilderness where He successfully overcomes the temptations of the Evil One. Then follows the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and things get off to a great start. Everyone loves his teaching. He speaks with spiritual authority no one has ever heard before.
Then Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth. He quotes an ancient prophecy from Isaiah that proclaims the coming of the Messiah who will bring good news to the poor, make the blind see, and set prisoners free.
“But not for you,” Jesus says to His long-time friends and neighbors. No miracles for you. He goes on to explain that there is this longstanding spiritual theme in the Great Story in which prophets are never honored in their hometowns. He references Elijah who could have healed any one of his homeboys but instead heals the son of a foreign widow in Phoenicia. Likewise, Jesus states, the prophet Elisha could have healed any leper in his local Jewish leper colony but instead heals a Syrian leper.
This lesson did not sit well with the hometown crowd. This wasn’t fair. So, they attempted to kill Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus’ message ended with death threats rather than any kind of spiritual transformation in His audience. He doesn’t seem concerned. Perhaps for the first time in His ministry, it seems that there is something bigger at stake that Jesus is trying to get at.
What I find fascinating about this episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that it so perfectly foreshadows what was going to happen at the end of it. It will be His own people who reject Him and hand Him over for execution. When this happens, Jesus will again reference the recurring theme of His people killing their own prophets throughout their storied history. Jesus also foreshadows that, after His resurrection and ascension, His “Good News” would miraculously explode across the non-Jewish, foreign Gentile population that His own people despised (which is the story told in the book of Acts).
The other reality I cannot escape in this episode is that, on a purely human level, it isn’t fair. A group of people won’t experience Jesus’ miracles. Their demon-possessed children won’t be released. There won’t be a miraculous transformation of tap water into Tempranillo to keep the wine flowing and the reception going at his Nazareth neighbor’s wedding. And, all of these things won’t happen just because Nazareth happens to be Jesus’ hometown? It isn’t fair.
In the quiet this morning I am pondering the fact that Jesus never promised fairness. I searched for it this morning just to double-check. Jesus never said that He came to bring fairness. Of course, He also wouldn’t experience fairness either. He would be unfairly accused, unfairly tried, and unfairly executed. It would seem logical to me to assume that I should not then expect fairness in my following of Jesus either. And, some will choose not to follow Jesus for this very reason. That was the reaction of Jesus’ hometown entourage. I observe people making the same choice today.
But what if fairness isn’t the point? What if my earthly journey is about something purposed which is far greater than what appears on the surface? What if there is a spiritual economy that is, in the grand scheme, actually more real than the temporal experience of my five earthly senses and my base human appetites? In my almost forty-year study of Jesus’ life and teachings, I find that Jesus’ came not to make life fair, but to exemplify love and call us to follow that example. And love isn’t fair. Love sacrifices all that it has, and is generously extravagant, and almost always receives an inequitable return on the investment. I believe that’s what Jesus came to show me, and in doing so He points me to something greater; He leads me to faith in the understanding that the eternal which I cannot touch, taste, see, smell, or hear is far greater and actually more real than any fair thing on this earth.
And so, I keep following.
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9 (NIV)
Over the past few years, my local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been focused on the phrase Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Over a three year cycle, we have contemplated the meaning of God’s kingdom within each of us, God’s kingdom in our community with others, and God’s Kingdom as we are sent to interact with the world around us.
In my own personal contemplation, I’ve found myself meditating on the fact that God’s kingdom operates opposite of the world I live in.
The world I live in encourages me to acquire more and more, while Jesus said that if I really want to be rich in God’s economy I should practice radical generosity.
The world I live in encourages me to hate my enemies, be suspicious of those who are not like me, and fight against those who have a different worldview than mine. Jesus said that in God’s kingdom I am not to repay evil for evil, but bless those who curse me.
The world I live in encourages equitable pay for equitable work. Jesus said that if I want to be part of God’s Kingdom, I have to be willing to walk further than what’s expected, to give more than has been asked, and to be content if and when I see others who seemingly have it better off than me.
The world I live in worships and rewards audacity, wealth, celebrity, and ego.
The prophet Zechariah lived and proclaimed his prophecies during the period known as the Babylonian exile. Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and torn Solomon’s Temple into ruins. Seventy years later, Zech’s messages and prophecies concerned the rebuilding of Jerusalem and God’s promises of restoration.
In today’s chapter, Zechariah prophetically envisions the “coming king” arriving in a rebuilt Jerusalem, not with the pomp of a royal parade, but humbly riding on a donkey. And, that’s just what Jesus did. Jesus’ followers thought that Jesus was going to wipe out the Romans, give the corrupt religious leaders their just desserts, and set up an earthly kingdom in which they would have positions of worldly prominence. Instead, Jesus suffered cruelly and died violently at the hands of His enemies. After rising from the dead, Jesus reminded His followers of what He’d been telling them all along: They would experience the same fate.
In the quiet this morning I find myself meditating on the economics of God’s Kingdom, which is so opposite the way my world operates. It’s so different than the way I’ve been taught to operate in this world. The media has already trended a million different ways since two weeks ago, but I can’t help but think about Brandt Jean forgiving his brother’s killer in public, then going the extra mile to ask the judge if he can give her a hug.
At that moment Brandt Jean brought God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. He gets it.
God, as I enter this new day, help me to do the same.
[Jonah] prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
Jonah 4:2 (NIV)
As I get older, I’ve grown to enjoy etymology, the study of words and their origins. I find it fascinating how these building blocks of communication become part of our everyday conversations, and how they wax and wane in popular usage. I also find it fascinating how cultures ascribe certain significance, power, and meaning to certain words, while others don’t. Our kids in Scotland have a few great anecdotes about uncomfortable social moments when they discovered that a word they used, which has a benign meaning in the States, has a very different meaning in the U.K.
There is a word I first noticed a few years ago, and I’ve found that it’s growing in popularity: schadenfreude. It’s a compound German word that comes from the root words meaning “harm” and “joy“. It means to take pleasure in another’s person’s misfortune.
There certainly is a natural and rather harmless way that we enjoy seeing the bad guy get his comeuppance. I was one of the many who watched the entire series Game of Thrones. The series was masterful in creating really bad characters who I wanted to see come to a nasty, bitter end and was happy when it eventually happened.
At the same time, there is a dark side of schadenfreude that I feel like I’m witnessing more and more in our current culture. It’s not enough to disagree with another person’s political, religious, or social worldviews, we have to publicly call them names and post antagonizing memes on social media. Just last night I found myself shutting off social media and walking away. I realized how mean-spirited the posts were that I was reading and it wasn’t having a positive effect on my psyche or my feelings towards others.
In today’s final chapter of the story of Jonah, we finally learn what was at the heart of Jonah’s mad dash to flee from what God had asked him to do. Jonah didn’t want God to be gracious and merciful with his enemies. Jonah wanted to wallow in schadenfreude and watch his enemies, the Assyrians, suffer.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus took five common statements about matters of relationship and then told His followers He was raising the bar. Jesus’ expectation for me as a follower is that I behave in a way that goes against the grain of common human behavior:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”
Matthew 5:43-47 (MSG)
Reading Jonah’s story this week has caused me to do some real personal introspection. You can see it in the common ways my posts have ended the past few days.
As I was reading about the etymology of the word schadenfreude, I learned that many cultures and languages have a word that means the same thing. I recognize that there is a relatively harmless pleasure that I take when my favorite team’s rival loses. C’est la vie. I don’t, however, want to wake up someday and find myself in Jonah’s sandals. Following Jesus means loving, even those people who wish to see me suffer; Even those who actually act on it.
“Forgive them. They don’t realize what they’re doing.”
God, make me more like that.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
I call them the eternal questions. This is not because the questions have no answers, but rather because no matter how many times you answer them they must be answered again. Perhaps they should be called the “perpetual” questions, but the phrase “eternal questions” has a certain ring to it. The eternal questions are the boulder of Sisyphus, the mythic schlep who perpetually rolled the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again. In our home, the most common eternal questions are:
- “What are we having for supper?”
- “So, what’s the plan today?”
- “What am I going to wear?”
I’ve learned along my life journey not to fight the eternal questions. It’s futile. It’s best to make your peace with them. For me, a step in the process of making peace was the understanding that the eternal questions come from an abundance of blessing. We are blessed to have choices. Indeed, we are blessed to have so many choices available to us from which the eternal questions spring.
In today’s chapter, I found myself intrigued by Paul’s encouragement to “clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” We don’t often think of kindness as a garment. I don’t think of myself slipping into gentleness and patience like a pair of yoga pants.
Nevertheless, as I meditated on the word picture Paul gave, it struck me that when it comes to my attitude and responses towards both circumstances and people, I have an entire wardrobe available to me. I can choose that bright rage coat, or I can choose the suede jacket lined with gentleness. I have an entire wardrobe of choices available to me. Welcome to the walk-in closet of free will.
“What should I wear today?”
Of course, if you’re anything like me there are those “go to” choices that don’t seem like a choice at all because they’re easy and require no thought. No effort needed, and the choice is oh so comfy. Passivity slips on me like a familiar old sweatshirt. I’ve worn prejudice so long I’ve worn holes in it like my ancient pair of 501 blues. And then there are those well-worn flip-flops of pessimism I can just slip into as I head out on my daily trek.
I once had a prophet who was given a word picture for me. It was the image of Father God handing me a shirt to put on. It was a shirt I would have never picked for myself, but once I slipped it on and looked in the mirror I realized it looked so good on me.
That came to mind as I meditated on the notion of choosing what I’m going to clothe myself with today. My spiritual closet is stocked with love, kindness, patience, joy, peace, gentleness, and self-control. How often do I reach down to the dirty clothes scattered on the floor of my closet and slip into my old stand-bys of resentment, apathy, impatience, complaint, discontent, bitterness, and indulgence?
This morning I’m once again asking myself the eternal question “What am I going to wear?” This morning, however, it’s not about the clothes I put on my body. I’m on a business trip and there’s only one outfit in the suitcase for today. Today, the eternal question is about how I’m going to clothe my spirit, temperament, and attitude as I work with colleagues and clients. Father God has an outfit picked out that I might not normally choose for myself. Maybe I should try it on. I bet it’ll look fabulous.
Dress well, my friend.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3 (NIV)
During the 2008 presidential election, both John McCain and Barack Obama were interviewed at a leadership conference. Both men, in turn, were asked a fascinating question. The candidates were asked to speak about their greatest failure. True to his masterful ability, I recall that Obama spoke for a few minutes in response. His answer articulately wove a beautiful tapestry of words in that graceful, assuring baritone voice. And, I have no recollection whatsoever of his answer.
Asked the same question, John McCain’s answer was immediate and simple: “The failure of my first marriage.”
I will never forget a conversation I had with a wise counselor as I was navigating the failure of my first marriage. My life was strewn in shattered pieces around me. It was the lowest point of my life, and I had been scheduled to speak with this spiritual sage. To be honest, I expected to hear more of the condemnation I felt like I was receiving on all sides. I expected a message of judgment. I expected a righteous tongue lashing and words of dire warning. What I didn’t expect was a prophecy.
“Someday,” the counselor said, “you are going to be called upon to walk along side someone who is going through exactly what you are experiencing in this moment, to guide them, and comfort them, and see them through their pain.” That is all that I remember from my hour with him.
It was an Easter Sunday morning several years later that I was walking out of the annual celebration service and spied a man who I had desired to befriend for some time. Seizing the moment, I pulled the acquaintance aside from the crowd and expressed that I would enjoy getting together with him and get to know him better. I’ll never forget the puzzled way he looked at me for a long, uncomfortable moment. Then he leaned in and whispered in my ear a direct answer with the succinct clarity of John McCain: “Tom, my wife left me. Nobody knows it.”
I had the privilege of becoming a friend of that acquaintance, and walking alongside him as he traversed the same agonizing path of marital failure. I got to guide him, comfort him, and see him through that valley. I was privileged to witness, over time, God’s redemption in his story.
Along life’s journey I’ve experienced that suffering produces a common, repetitive question: “Why?”
Sometimes there is no answer to that question, and I won’t pretend that there always is. Yet, I’ve also experienced in my own suffering that there is often purpose in my pain, just as I’ve read time-and-time again in my chapter-a-day journey. Consider these three similar messages from three different authors writing to three different audiences:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7
In the midst of my greatest failure, and in the deepest valley I have thus far traversed in my journey, I unexpectedly learned a valuable lesson through the words of a prophet. Sometimes my suffering, and the spiritual comfort I come to find, in Christ, amidst the agony, prepares me to someday comfort another who is making their way through the same dark valley.
The words of Jeremiah end here.
Jeremiah 51:64 (NIV)
Along my journey I’ve had the privilege of officiating a host of funerals. Some of them have been family members with whom I’ve had a life-long relationship. Many have been complete strangers to me. No matter the case, I’ve always approached these meaningful events with a desire to honor the person, her/her family, and to comfort those loved ones by telling the person’s story well.
I usually start by simply meeting with the family and asking them questions. As I listen, a story begins to emerge about the deceased, what the person did with his/her life, how he/she impacted the people around them, and what his/her journey was really about. I’ve got to be honest, sometimes the story is heart-warming, and other times it is painfully tragic. Either way, there is always a story to tell.
One of the things I’ve most appreciated about this long slog through Jeremiah’s prophetic anthology is the realization that we have a fairly thorough retrospective of Jeremiah’s 40 years of prophetic works from beginning to end. Jeremiah had a very specific message to convey throughout his career: Babylon was going to destroy his city of Jerusalem and take his people into exile. Then, Babylon would eventually suffer the same fate. When the former happens as prophesied, Jeremiah sends the latter message with a servant headed to Babylon. With that act, the editors tell us that they are Jeremiah’s final words (though the story ends with tomorrow’s final chapter).
Jeremiah’s words were never popular. He was threatened, attacked, imprisoned, left to die, and yet he always remained “on message.” He stuck doggedly to the message God gave him. When the Babylonians showed him unusual mercy for his prophetic “support” of their invasion, Jeremiah didn’t hesitate to tell them that their turn was coming. He never backed down. He completed the job. He stuck to the mission.
This morning I’m thinking about the end of Jeremiah’s words, and it’s prompting thoughts about my own life, and my own story. Someday the responsibility will likely fall on someone to listen to my family members and to sum up my story in just a few minutes of oratory. With each day of my journey I slowly pen that story. I hope it’s not unlike Jeremiah’s: sticking to the mission, completing the course set before me. More than anything, I hope the theme of the story is love.