A few Sundays ago, I sat eager and excited in the wooden pew of my beloved, small, and multicultural church. It was Easter morning and we could feel it. Worship was bright and filled with life; He was risen indeed. Dressed in pastel blues, greens, and pinks, we sang boldly with jubilant voices: “Glory, hallelujah!”
About ten minutes into the service, the children’s choir stood up in front of the congregation to share with us a song they had written together with the worship director. A line of kids—black, white and brown, ages five to thirteen—sang shoulder to shoulder: “He got up, from the grave… All hail King Jesus! Glory be to our God!” I was nearly brought to tears. The sight before me was beautiful. It was the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, of the resurrection of Christ—I could feel it in the air. I wanted to capture this moment… so I reached for my phone to take a picture. Glancing down at the screen, however, I saw one of those news updates that disrupts the soul. Somewhere in the world there had been an explosion, and among the casualties was a significant number of children.
My heart stopped. And then sank. A few tears trickled down my cheeks, and I felt a wave of deep grief fill my body.
Around me, the world kept moving. The sweet children up front kept singing their song, proclaiming praise to the Risen Lord. The service kept on, progressing as planned, a celebration of resurrection, joy and hope.
Reflecting on those moments, I think I experienced what some call the “already-not yet,” the wonderful truth and the hard heartache of the Easter season: that Christ has come into the world and conquered death on the cross, rising from the grave in victory over evil; and that the world is still broken, still suffering, still waiting for Him to come again to set all things right, to bring God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.
In Psalm 66, I hear hints of this “already-not yet.” The psalmist begins with praise, singing blessings to the God who “keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip” (vs. 8-9, NASB). God is faithful and personal and protects us; glory be! But only a verse or two later, the psalmist declares: “you brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water” (vs. 11-12a, NRSV). In other words, God, we’re suffering, we’re hurting; hard things are happening and we’re trapped in a net of pain. And—here’s the part that crumbles me—the psalmist attributes these hardships to having been allowed by God.
Whoa. That’s heavy, and honestly, I’m not sure what to do about that—and lots of people have preached a lot of sermons and written a lot of books on this topic. Personally, I don’t want to believe that it is God who ordains suffering or hurting, and I firmly believe that God hates evil and suffering and injustice and sin. (There’s all kinds of biblical evidence for this: check out Isaiah 61, Micah 6:8, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, and 1 Corinthians 15—just to name a few.) But as I read on through the psalm and its verses about sacrifices, vows, and burnt offerings, I eventually arrive at verses 19 and 20: “But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me” (NASB).
As I read those words even now, I feel breath fill my chest and a sigh of relief start to calm my anxious heart. We’ve circled back with the psalmist, remembering the opening words of this section about how God is faithful and personal and protects us. God hears us, God cares about us, and God does not “remove his steadfast love from [us]” (vs. 20b, NRSV).
Lovingkindness. Steadfast love. The Hebrew word, hesed. It’s a word overflowing with richness: goodness, kindness, favor, mercy, and so much more. It’s God’s LOVE—all capitals, all-encompassing, all-consuming.
I don’t know why there’s suffering in the world or where sin comes from. I don’t understand why there are explosions and death, and I believe that God mourns with us in the face of injustice and evil. What I do know and trust is that we are living in the “already-not yet,” and that while there is still suffering and death in this world, God in Christ and by the Spirit hears our cries and will not turn away our prayers. God’s lovingkindness, God’s steadfast love, God’s hesed, is faithful and personal and protects us. Glory be and amen.