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Hope is Now: How long?

Reflections from Our Pastors

   The dire, desperate, yet faithful question, “How long?” is a constant in the Psalms. It’s asked 4 times in the very short Psalm 13. The feeling, clearly, is that God has forgotten me, God isn’t listening, God isn’t bothering to intervene for me. Anybody who’s prayed in dire straits knows the feeling. But the Psalmist is still talking to God. To ask “How long?” simultaneously questions God and yet affirms a dogged belief that God is still there, still listening, still caring, and still might come and help.

Ellen Charry pinpointed the trouble. There is an earthly enemy, unnamed, but patently real. But, “God’s silence is the deeper threat.” Indeed. If God is real, and manifestly present, all kinds of trouble can be weathered.

The deep threat is implicit in the question, “How long?” Time. We might know to think of time as a beautiful gift, but it can feel like the enemy, chewing us up. For us modern people it’s worse than for people in ancient times. Everything is quick, instant, so “now” – so waiting on God, coping with nothing improving, is sheer agony. The word “chronic” really just means lasting over time. But the connotations are negative, downright toxic or hostile. How long?

Martin Luther King, Jr. picked up on this in his preaching. Segregation and systemic mistreatment of black people had gone on for decades before the Civil Rights movement kicked off. Nothing changed very quickly. Hard work, more suffering, a step forward, major setbacks. On the steps of the Capitol building in Montgomery he asked “How long will prejudice darken men’s understanding? How long will justice be crucified and truth buried? How long? Not long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again, Not long because no lie an live forever, Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” {Watch/listen here!}

Psalm 13 reveals what we hear in so many Psalms. Utter despair, crying out in the dark for days, weeks, years for God to help… and then the Psalm turns in its final verses. “I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice, I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Not “I hope he’ll deal bountifully with me,” but “He has dealt bountifully with me.” Already? Or is the Psalmist simply so certain of God’s ultimate care and help that, in advance, he begins thanking God for what has not yet come?

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