Wrestle With God (Tuesday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Fifth Tuesday in Lent
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” Revelation 6:9-10
How long, oh Lord? This is an ancient cry. It’s a cry of Psalmists and wisdom writers and prophets. But in a surprising New Testament twist, the cry of lament is found on the lips of those martyrs who’ve already gone to be with the Lord.
Lament in heaven? I’ve heard a bunch of funeral sermons, but I’ve never heard one emphasizing the sadness of those who’ve gone to be with Christ. What can this mean?
What it means is this: How long? is a cry for us all. It’s a cry for those at the bottom of the pit and those at the loftiest heights. It’s a cry for the poor and for the rich. It’s a cry for the abuse victim and for the ecstastic new mother.
You see, these are wrestling words. These are words for a world in which injustice still lingers, where racism dehumanizes, where pornography toxifies. They are words for a world in which Christians are still martyred, innocent children are aborted, and women are paid less than men. There is always an opportunity to cry out How long?
We live in a world longing for shalom, groaning for redemption (Rom. 8). Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Some of us ignore this. Others cope with cynicism or with denial or with distraction. But Lent invites us to pay attention, not merely to our ordinary problems – credit card debt or the need for weight loss – but to the more complex and messy ones. Lent invites us to wrestle on behalf of anyone, anywhere, who needs the justice and mercy of Christ.
A pastor was once over-heard saying, “Lent is kind of like a God-sanctioned self-improvement project.” When I heard this, I cringed. No, Lent isn’t about a bit of cleaning up and repair work but about personal and cosmic transformation. As we’re changed, our cries become the cries of the world. We join our voices with the heavenly voices who see a world not yet set right.
The agenda of my old selves is always (false) self-centered. My true self in Christ, however, joins in union with the One who came near to love to join and even weep with those who long for mercy and justice. Prayer, then, can become a wrestling on behalf of the Palestinian Christian denied human rights, the pastor’s wife being emotionally abused by her narcissistic husband, and the teenage girl raped by her boyfriend now wondering how to end her pregnancy.
To become participants in this cosmic wrestling match requires us to do some Lenten soul-work, however. We’ve got to attend to patterns of denial, avoidance, and distraction. We’ve got to name the false realities we live into that mask the real. We’ve got to open ourselves to the groaning of the entire creation, not just our own.
But, this isn’t an invitation to a depressing life! As our hearts become more expansive, joy grows within us. We see through the pain into the profound goodness of others made in the image of God. We join with Jesus, who makes his home in me and you and every broken imager-bearer.
So, join your voice to the saints who’ve already gone before us. How long? is a prayer for all of us.
Justice-and-Mercy seeking God, you hear the groans of your creation and your children. I want to join my ‘How Long?’ to theirs. I long to wrestle on behalf of others. Stir in me a heart for those who need this cry. Amen