Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Church May Say

If you've been following the news lately at all, you've most likely seen headlines, stories, and blog posts about Rachael Denhollander and her courageous stand against Larry Nassar, a former US Gymnastics doctor and her abuser. Rachael is, in my opinion, a hero. A hero the 21st century church desperately needs. Her gospel presentation to the man who vilely hurt her are words that could be only said by a woman who knows her Lord, who knows her Lord has "set the captives free", and who knows her Lord will come in victory and punish evildoers with glorious, solid finality. She knows that her Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3), and she has stood in front of a watching world and born witness to the strength given her by her mighty Father. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, this same Lord - the all-loving Father Rachael and I share - has brought me once again through a bruising season, from which I am finally emerging. And once again, I have learned that He heals and frees and loves even in terrible darkness. As proof of this, He sent a favorite recording of Psalm 124 across my path, and the passion, the emphasis of victory in every word, the defiant trust in and celebration of His goodness hit me with an incredible impact.

Rocky Mountain National Park; spring 2015

Now Israel may say [Church! This is you!], and that truly
if that the Lord had not our cause maintained
if that the Lord had not our right sustained
when cruel men against us furiously
rose up in wrath, to make of us their prey

The furious wrath of cruelty breathes down our backs and terrifies us. We wonder if freedom or safety are even possible. We wonder if justice will ever be done, if injustice will ever be called on the carpet. We wonder if the light will ever break through the fog of despair. We wonder if tears will ever cease or if the pain that forces them from our eyes will be healed. We wonder when victory over sin and Satan will come, if ever.

Maybe this is it... Maybe this is the end of the line. Maybe this really is how it all will end.

Maybe we are defeated.

Maybe we are prey.

Maybe the cruel men have won.

Then certainly they had devoured us all
and swallowed quick, for aught that we could deem
such was their rage, as we might well esteem
And as fierce floods before them all things drown
so had they brought our soul to death quite down.

It's just as we feared.

We've been devoured. Swallowed. Drowned by fierce floods and brought to death. Where is the happiness we once had? Where is the innocence? Where is that safety we instinctively crave? We've long moved past looking for the light at the end of the tunnel - now we're just trying to stand upright in pitch black, unending darkness. Like the Egyptians during the plague, we can't see our hands in front of our faces, much less wipe the tears off our cheeks.

This is intolerable, unsustainable.


North of Pacific Beach, Washington; winter 2015

The raging streams, with their proud swelling waves
had then our soul o'erwhelmed in the deep.
But blessed be God, who doth us safely keep
and hath not given us for a living prey
unto their teeth and bloody cruelty.

Somehow, in the midst of these swelling waves, our feet brush against a Rock. A jolt of realization and hope makes our eyes flash and our hearts leap. In the dark stone tunnel, the teary eyes sparkle, because a great Light is shining to those who once were in darkness.

He has kept us, even as we didn't - couldn't - realize the keeping. He has rescued the prey and prevented defeat, and once again, Daniel cries, "My God has sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths and they have not harmed me!"

Even as a bird out of the fowler's snare
escapes away, so is our soul set free
broke are their nets, and thus escaped we.
Therefore our help is in the Lord's great Name
who heaven and earth by His great power did frame.

Look, Church. Look at the bird flying free, released from the snare and the nets and the waves. Look at your souls - see the final redemption and the imputed righteousness and the hope that lies within us. Look around you at the mighty power of God in your brothers and sisters in Christ, in their lives and hearts and tragedies and triumphs, in their mountains and valleys, mornings and evenings, lives and deaths.

Now turn, and look at your Lord.

Your help is in His great name. The name that compels every knee in heaven and earth to bow is your strong tower. The all powerful Jehovah is yours, your undefeated Conqueror. Emmanuel, God with us, is yours, your all-sufficient Savior. The Comforter is yours, your constant help and guide.

Bank of the Big Thompson River; spring 2015

This is for you, Church. This is for you, Rachael. This is for you, friend with an unexpected medical diagnosis and a frightening future. This is for you, suffering saints. This is for you, friends who intimately know the darkness, hopelessness, emptiness, and loneliness of mental health struggles. This is for you, brothers and sisters with debilitating, undiagnosed pain. This is for you, broken families and marriages and friendships and congregations. This is for you, betrayed friend, in your anguished anger and shock. This is for you, children of tragedy and trauma and upheaval. This is for you, exhausted mothers and fathers, in your labors of love. This is for you, my fearing friend, who struggles deeply with understanding the grace and mercy of your Father (oh, how He loves you).

This is what you may say, Church. This is what you may say - not out of coercion, or fear, but because it is truth overflowing:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side... 
Then they would have swallowed us up alive. 
Blessed be the Lord 
Who has not given us as prey for their teeth! 
Our help is in the name of the Lord, 
who made heaven and earth. 
(Psalm 124:1, 3, 6, 8)


{lyrics to Psalm 124 from this link}