By Bob Hiller –
The waiting is the hardest part.
Every day you see one more card.
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart.
The waiting is the hardest part.
Tom Petty died this week. After suffering from cardiac arrest on Sunday night, he was taken to the hospital, where he was put on life support. It was removed Monday morning, and though he was reported dead, Petty held on to life for a number of hours. He died later that night. He was 66. He was one of the great ones.
Petty’s death, as tragic as it was, was overshadowed by the horrifying events of Sunday’s Las Vegas shooting. A wicked man opened fire on hundreds of concert-goers from his Las Vegas hotel room on the 32nd floor. At the time of writing this blog, 58 people are dead, and something like 500 are still recovering from gunshot wounds. In my small town of Valley Center, CA, we have people standing at intersections holding signs of their friend who attended the show. I haven’t been able to stop and ask if the man was killed or injured or what compels them to hold these signs. My heart breaks for them.
On top of this, I keep hearing horrible stories of the people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and now Puerto Rico suffering in the aftermath of this year’s hurricane season. The Puerto Ricans have no water and rebuilding seems an almost insurmountable task. Things don’t seem much easier in the states. What’s more, Mexico is trying to find a way forward after enduring an 8.1 earthquake. Creation is groaning, and so are we.
Making matters worse, all of this becomes fodder for political pundits and talk show hosts to increase their ratings by turning tragedy into opportunity and fostering political polarization. And on that note, let’s be honest. Our tweeting president doesn’t seem to be making a great effort to unify our country in such times. To add fuel to the fire, North Korea keeps boasting of their nuclear strength. Professional athletes are taking divisive political stands (or kneels, I suppose) during the national anthem. Many folks watch sports to forget about the noise for a while. Now, these athletes are taking those few hours of reprieve and using them to put the noise back in our collective faces. Agree or disagree with the stance of these athletes, right or wrong, they have certainly increased tensions. At least, it has all increased President Trump’s twitter activity.
And Tom Petty died this week. Tom freaking Petty! It’s the icing on this disgusting cake.
One of my favorite songs by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is “The Waiting.” The song begins,
Oh, baby don’t it feel like heaven right now?
Don’t it feel like something from a dream?
And I just want to answer, “No!” It don’t feel like heaven at all!” This world is a wreck. I know that when we look around we see glimpses of the true, the good, and the beautiful. I guess my eyes are just a little tainted these days. A few years back, I was talking with a pastor who had just finished his time as an army chaplain in the Middle East. I asked him what it was like to do ministry in such circumstances. His answer still haunts me: “Before I joined the service, I thought this world was generally good with a few pockets of evil that needed to be put in check. But after serving, I learned the reality is the opposite. This world is full of darkness with very few pockets of light.” Not much like a dream I’d want to have.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I’ve never really struggled with the existence of the God of the Bible. I don’t doubt the doctrines of the faith are true. But you have to be made of stone, in religious denial, or Pat Robertson not to question why God seems so absent (or worse, very present!) in all of this mess. All the hope of the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth seems so naively optimistic at times. God says, “Behold, I’ll make all things new!” Great! But when? How long? Why do we have to go through this to get to that? To bring in another classic, sometimes God can feel like Cat Steven’s father in “Cat’s in the Cradle”:
“We’ll get together soon, Dad. You know we’ll have a good time then.”
It gets harder and harder to believe that “then” is actually coming. The waiting is the hardest part.
Strange as it is to say, it gives me a sort of comfort to know that this sort of theological melancholy is not foreign to Scripture. This sort of exhaustion with the world and frustration with God is voiced to God, for example, in the Psalms or the book of Lamentations. What’s more, it is shockingly voiced by God himself as He hangs in the flesh of Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He doesn’t sweat drops of blood for nothing as the One who wrestled Jacob now wrestles with His own Father’s will.
It is a strange God indeed who gives these prayers to His people in their pain. It’s as though He’s saying, “You are so forgiven in Christ’s death and resurrection that you are free to lament what you don’t understand and what I hide from you. You are free to join Job in seeking an audience with me! But be warned (or is it: take heart?), the audience is coming!” Such laments come, I hope, from the faith which Christ’s Word put in your heart. Lamentation longingly “takes it on faith and takes it to the heart” that the holy city will descend like a bride adorned for her husband, that God will dwell with His people, that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:4-5). Christ is risen, indeed! He’s coming back and bringing this new creation with Him. And if we’ve been crucified with Him in this world of death, we’ll certainly be raised with Him to that new heavens and earth. We’re just not there yet. The waiting is painful and dark; it really is the hardest part.
So, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”