Following the string of recent tragedies, like many of you, I’ve found myself at a loss for what to say. My heart has been affected in different ways–fear, sadness, anger, shame for a society that’s so snarky and indignant, convicted, overwhelmed by touching responses. For many days, I felt almost paralyzed, trying to process my thoughts and come to terms with living and raising children in this world.
But then I thought–why am I so surprised?
When so many have abandoned God for self-seeking purposes, why am I surprised that evil runs rampant around us? If He is the light of the world (John 8:2), and so many have abandoned Him, why am I suprised that we are living in a time of darkness?
My morning Bible reading let me to the prophet Joel today, in chapter 2, where he prophesied to the kingdom of Judah. In the beginning, it’s quite the eerie chapter, declaring the “day of the Lord,” a time of judgment for those in Judah who refused to seek repentance. It brings a reminder of God’s wrath, which like Judah, many have started to dismiss completely or take lightly.
In the first two verses of Joel 2, we read:
Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming,
For it is at hand:
A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness,
Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.
The next few verses describe utter desolation. A devouring fire, people writhing in pain with their faces drained of color…the imagery in this passage (verses 3-10) is beautifully disturbing.
And then, Joel says this:
The Lord gives voice before His army, For His camp is very great;
For strong is the One who executes His word.
For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?
It’s a reminder that yes, the day of God’s punishment is terrible and disturbing, but also that the Lord is in control. And in the midst of despair and great suffering, His omnipotent power is something tangible and everlasting. We can bank on it, and it should give us hope… provided we are inclined to repentance.
Following verse 11, in 12-13 we see that offer of hope extended to Judah–the same hope that we can access through turning back to Christ.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.
This next set of verses really spoke to me about where we are in society today. It is not a call for Judah to cower or to complain. It’s not a call for indignance or wallowing. It’s a call to action. A call to pause what they were doing in this grief and sin-stricken world to fulfill their own selfish desires and rather to fast, santctify, assemble, and weep.
Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people, Sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and nursing babes; Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, And the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, Weep between the porch and the altar; Let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
As we banter our opinions back and forth and reject or neglect His truth, are the likes of ISIS sneering at us and asking the same question?
The great hope begins in verse 18:
Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, And pity His people.
God is a god of compassion. He loves us because we are His creation. His heart is broken over our defiance and self-seeking. But, he is, according to Hebrews 11:6, a rewarder of those who dilligently seek Him.
The beauty of Joel 2 is the promise given in its last verses–for the spririt of God to be poured out to us. It’s a promise of deliverance. And a promise that has already been given.
In Luke 4:16-21, it tells of Jesus reading from Isaiah 61 on the Sabbath day. He chose this passage from verses 1 and 2:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Verse 19 gives even deeper hope. There is an acceptable year of the Lord. And we do have a Lord who shines light in the darkness. And as the passage continues, we see the evidence of this promise being delivered.
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
It’s our own selfishness and stubbornness that leads us into darkness. Repentance is simple, really. Turn your path away from self and toward God. Dive into Scripture, seek His will, and follow it rather than your own. When you feel that indignance bubble in your veins, stop to ask yourself if you are really listening to Him or yielding to temptation.
If all of society began walking in His light, we’d have no more darkness.
It must annoy God, how we insist on continually carrying the weight of His world on our shoulders when He’s got things under control. Our worry surely grows tiresome, and our need for endless compassion and mercy must surely be a heavy demand. How grateful should we be that His grace endures?
Exodus 14:13-14 gives the words of Moses to his people:
Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
I never noticed the following verses in context before, when the Lord asks Moses, “Why do you cry to me?” It’s almost like God says to stop whining. Trust me. I’ve got this.
I can think of numerous instances in Scripture where someone is given a message of “I’ve got this” from God. Consider stories like Jesus calming the storm, Peter walking on water, Zechariah laughing when he finds out he’s going to be a father. Every time someone’s worry or skepticism takes over, they get a gentle reminder that God is in control.
We always talk in church about how God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. Why, then, is it such a stretch to believe in our hearts that He’s really in charge?
The problem arises when we try to choose the outcome. We don’t trust God to deliver the answer we want. But, we have to remember we belong to Him. He loves us, and we are His children. He knows what’s best for us, which may or may not be the outcome we desire. And He will fight for us. In fact, He’s already fought and won in His resurrection.
Consider I Peter 5:6-7:
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.…
In a world full of evil deeds and bad news, we should pray for patience and humility, so we can wait for Him to exalt us such that it glorifies Him. We should humble ourselves under his mighty hand, rather than striking out rashly in fear over the acts of men. How often we forget that the battle belongs to the Lord.
Instead, we walk around trigger-happy, both with our words and retaliation.
So strive then, when the enemy rises up against you, to hold your peace.