70 Years

God, Grief, Old Testament, Suffering

This is a repost from 3/18/2011:

Grief is a normal part of healthy human existence.  Without the ability to grieve we wouldn’t have the ability to love, to feel connected at a deep level to someone, something, or even an idea.  We can and should grieve the loss of a dream, the loss of our home, or the loss of a person that we love to death or relational mayhem.  It is a God designed part of our humanness.

Can you see this picture of suffering and grief?

This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.  No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit.  My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed…I called to my allies but they betrayed me. My priests and my elders perished in the city while they searched for food to keep themselves alive…Outside, the sword bereaves; Inside there is only death…My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.  They say to their mothers, “Where is the bread and wine?” as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mother’s arms (Lamentations 1:16, 19, 20; 2:11-12 TNIV)

These words were written sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., after the military alliances of Israel had fallen apart and they had been utterly and mercilessly destroyed.  There was lack of food, loss of shelter, and total fracturing of any protection from violence.  Yet the writer does not call out for food, shelter or protection from violence.  She calls out with Jerusalem’s voice, weeping because there is no one who has brought the comfort of companionship or restoration of the soul.  What Jerusalem needs is someone who cares, but she states:

People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me…my groans are many and my heart is faint (Lamentations 1:21, 22 TNIV)

Yet, for those of us who have friends who are experiencing loss we often feel a sense of despair as well, a joining-in with their suffering and grief.  It is this role that brings to mind questions like, “What should I say?”, “How do I relate?” or “How do I make it better for them?”  Often, we don’t do anything.  We’re frozen with the fear of comforting the wrong way so we simply pretend that things are okay; we hear the groaning but because of our discomfort we do not comfort.  What does comfort look like?

I imagine these next words from Isaiah as a full-throated, compassionate answering cry to the groans of Jerusalem; hear the incredible power of hope proved true:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion [Jerusalem] – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called mighty oaks, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:1,2-3)

Here’s the kicker though: Israel waited many, many years to hear the words recorded in Isaiah.  70 years.  70 years of praying the words of the author of Lamentations:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him”…Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure (3:21-24; 5:20-22)

70 years of comfort from a God who never forgot, who was with them through their pain and sorrow.  When our friends are grieving loss we often cannot change what has happened, but what we can do is be present.  So drop your impulse to fix things and sit tight with your discomfort so that you can comfort your friend.  Be with them, invite them over, cry with them when they cry, sit in silence.  The Spirit of the one who fulfilled and continues to fulfill the words in Isaiah is with us, but we must wait for him in our grieving together.

We cannot rush these things.

It took Israel 70 years.


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