Archive for September 18, 2011
Scripture regularly associates God with joy, exuberant joy. The Psalms calls
us to sing with joy to the Lord (for example, Ps. 67:4). The Apostle Paul urges
us to be “full of joy in the Lord” (Phi.l 4:4). And, just in case we missed it, he
adds, “I say it again—rejoice!” (Phil. 4:5).
But joy is not the only emotion that flows from relationship with the living
God. Sadness shows up also, as we read in Psalm 80:5, “You have fed us with
sorrow and made us drink tears by the bucketful.” The original
Hebrew of this verse reads more literally, “You have made us eat the bread of
tears and made us drink the tears of a [large] measure.”
What’s this? Has God fed his people with the bread of tears and tears by the
bucketful? Has God inflicted sorrow upon his people?
Yes, he has. Psalm 80 only complains of what God has done, begging for help,
but not providing any reason for the Lord’s unwelcome behavior. From elsewhere
in Scripture, we know that God has brought upon his people the judgment that
their rejection of him deserved. They are being disciplined for generations of
rebellion against the Almighty.
Yet, we also know that God does not forever abandon us. Yes, he allows us to
weep…for a season. But that is not the end
of the story. As Psalm 126 celebrates: “Those who plant in tears will harvest
with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as
they return with the harvest” (126:5-6). Through Jesus Christ, we have begun to
experience the joy of this harvest, however partially (see, for example, 1 Pet.
1:3-9). Our sadness in this world increases our yearning for God, opening us to
more of his grace. Even as we eat the bread of tears, we also eat the bread of
new life, the body of our Lord. So we are sustained through times of sorrow by
the hope of God’s future.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever felt as if
God had given you a bucket of tears to drink? What happened in your relationship
with God during this time? How is it possible for both sorrow and joy to be
essential aspects of the Christian life?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, there are times, even now, when you give
us tears by the bucketful. Yes, yes, there are many times of blessing and joy.
But, sometimes, that for which we have earnestly prayed does not come to pass.
People we love suffer and die. Homes are destroyed by flood or fire. Families
splinter because of anger or unfaithfulness. We drink the tears that inevitably
flow in a broken world such as ours.
In those times, we cry out with the Psalmist. We ask you to rescue us, heal
us, and restore us. We recognize that you alone can save us from our sorrow. And
so we pray: “Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your
face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved” (Ps. 80:19).
The “Rote” to “Rutness”
We can go one step further and come to what I will call the rut, which is bondage to the rote. When we are unable to see and sense bondage to the rote, we are in a rut. For example, a man may be sick and not even know it. The doctors may have confided in the man’s wife and said, “We don’t want to frighten your husband, but he could drop any minute. He is critically ill, so just expect it at any moment.” But the man himself does not know he is seriously ill. He goes about his business as though nothing is wrong. He may play golf or tennis, maybe even go on a hunting trip. He is sick, and yet he does not know how sick he really is. This may in fact hasten his end. Not knowing is risky business and full of danger. Spiritually speaking, the rut is bondage to the rote, and the greatest danger lies in our inability to sense or feel this bondage.