Lent: Remembering Perfect Love in Troubled Times
"Habakkuk continued his complaining with a subtle taunt, 'O Lord, are you not from everlasting?'"
If you can slow down enough to listen, the Lenten season points us homeward to the real lessons of life. You can see its recurring patterns that youth was ignorant of when you have enough decades behind you. Nothing is happening today that did not occur in the yesterdays of thousands of years before our brief time on earth.
For many of us, 2020 and 2021 were disheartening years. Life was enslaved to a microscopic virus that set in motion a cascading series of events, draconian personal restrictions, lockdowns, and massive legal and ethical confrontations.
There was great physical and emotional pain for many during the pandemic. For others, it was a cage of excruciating isolation and loneliness. Some battled every day to make it to another tomorrow. Others didn’t see that next day. For some, little changed, and their daily regimen was hardly interrupted — the most significant dilemma was how to get their hair done. For a tiny few, their immense fortunes grew staggeringly due to the captive markets they commanded at the expense of the many, imposed by capricious law.
The world doesn’t know love until it sees the Easter cross.
Also, there was a tumultuous election, whose legitimacy remains questioned by many, which led to installing a government seeking to “fundamentally reshape” the nation, whether welcomed or not. An already fractured society became, deliberately, more so. Equality under the law was replaced by a nebulous demand for “equity” enforced by the mob and mindless bureaucrats.
New National and International Chaos
In 2022 in place of the virus, now there is new national and international chaos.
The nation’s economy is shaking with staggering inflation, and domestic corruption and violence are surging. The new year brought war and rumors of war. The virus receded only to be replaced by steel and guns — not unseen and silent but like rolling lightning and thunder. The far-off invasion by a godless state suddenly renders the unthinkable possibility of war with a nuclear-armed foe, or foes, thinkable.
Wrestling With the Conundrums of Life
Some six hundred years before Christ, a Jewish prophet named Habakkuk tussled with God over these same conundrums of life he saw all around him. His story is in a brief, little-visited three-chapter book in the Old Testament.
This prophet was infuriated as to why God would make him witness the injustice around him. “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” He asks God. “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. [The] law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails, so that justice is perverted.”
In the category of “be careful what you ask for,” God answers Habakkuk, warning that he is raising the Babylonians, a “ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.”
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Habakkuk continued his complaining with a subtle taunt, “O Lord, are you not from everlasting?” Then another question, “How can the wicked swallow up the more righteous?”
God tells Habakkuk to write — and make it “plain.” What followed was a devastating depiction of man’s wickedness, cruelty, and corruption over other men, as accurate today as it has ever been. And God tells of his justice to come. (In this chapter, we find God’s exhortation “…but the righteous will live by his faith,” a recurring theme in the New Testament and one that helped fuel the Protestant Reformation several thousand years later.)
In chapter three, Habakkuk recalls the everlasting glory, the immense creation at God’s hand, and the faithfulness of the God he serves. Habakkuk concludes, “…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
What We Need to Know. Not What We Want to Know
Both Habakkuk’s lament and his joy are ours today. God only ever tells us what we need to know in our time, not what we want to know.
His rescue plan for a hell-bent world has been at work since the Garden of Eden when the first human couple trespassed into sin — going their own way — and finding God insufficient. And, it is where God first tells us to keep watch, and he will set the world right.
That time came precisely at the planned moment over two thousand years ago, on the dusty, hot roads of Judea and ending in Jerusalem’s ancient city. A traveling teacher had been gathering great crowds with transcendent words of hope and miracles, and his statements were the most thought-provoking and perplexing anyone then, or now, had ever heard. They were words harder than diamonds, and the religious authorities were bound to have him dead because of them.
An Itinerant Preacher Testified to the Truth
This teacher didn’t come to preach peace, though he was the Prince of Peace. Nor did he come as an avenging King, though he was the King of Kings. He was not the expected warrior, though he was the mighty Lion of Judah. And he was not timid, though he was the Paschal Lamb, the perfect sacrifice.
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He was in human form an itinerant preacher, born under a cloud of scandal, and a carpenter by trade. He had no easy looks or great stature that would lure us. Yet his words swept away the world’s knowledge, for they were the words of the “…firstborn over all creation.” Through a simple craftsman from Nazareth, “…all things were created, visible and invisible” through him, and “in him all things hold together.”
He commands even the universe he made.
When he was taken to trial on Good Friday, he did not defend himself as the King of Kings to his accusers or Pilate, the Roman governor, but as a truth-teller, “…[for this reason] I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
One can still hear the wistful reply of Pilate murmuring down over the ages as he was looking at the bound and beaten man; “What is the truth?”
Love Always Follows the Truth
That day and that Cross was divine, perfect love. In the tempest, Christ saw all the roiling, billowing storms of the sin of every single person then — and every single person down the thousands of years since.
The world doesn’t know love until it sees the Easter cross. There is a wildness about God’s love. It is a love beyond our reason and imagination that the God of the Universe should love us so much in our sin that he ransoms us from its penalty.
Scientists tell us that an average human body has 25 trillion blood cells. The teacher died that Good Friday on that terrible instrument meant to shame, humiliate and inflict unbounded pain. His body was emptied of blood.
I like to think that just one of those blood cells has my name written on it. The receipt of my purchase. And another yours. Each an eternal love letter.
Michael Giere writes award-winning commentary and essays on the intersection of politics, culture and faith. He is a critically acclaimed novelist (The White River Series) and short-story writer.