I was supposed to write this blog post weeks ago, but I didn’t. It’s been easy to be listless, to do the bare minimum. I’ve been watching a lot of superhero shows like Batman, Spiderman, and Static Shock with my two and five-year-old sons. Perhaps I hoped a superhero would swoop in and do the post for me. It’s bad enough that the world is tearing itself apart. When you add in the personal problems that have doubtlessly cropped up for everyone over the same period of time, grief almost buries me. Now I sit here looking at my screen, and I’m supposed to write about hope. But when I look inward, all I find is silence.
Silence can be different things. Silence can be the unstirred forest of Wisconsin, briefly punctuated by playing squirrels. Silence can be the moment to speak truth gagged by the haunting of long-held guilt. Silence can be the roar of a pandemic, civil-strife-torn historical current that drowns your voice so that as your grief pours out of your throat and your eyes, nothing happens. Silence can be something that you hear, and silence can be something that happens to you.
I can’t talk about my personal grief now. Not because of what’s going on in the world, but for other reasons that make it not possible. It’s tearing me up inside. But I know that everyone reading this not only has the world’s troubles but your own personal struggles roiling in your belly. Personal griefs. Personal hurts. And you don’t feel heard either. Your words seem to echo out, and they’re either drowned in the noise or met with a brutal silence.
Hope in Grief
Some of these things will pass. Some readers have accrued debt or lost a job. You’re looking at bills that you don’t know how to pay. You’re staring at a resume and wondering what you can do to make yourself seem special. You’re questioning yourself even as you question a world that’s pulling troubles out of a hat like a deranged magician. Fortunately, these things aren’t insurmountable. You can find a job. You can climb out of debt. You can stay the course. Unfortunately, these things still hurt, but hope can be found. I won’t say it’s easy because hope is never easy, but you can find it.
On the other hand, some things won’t pass. Some things will mark our souls till we die. Perhaps sickness has permanently robbed you of your health, or maybe it’s just old age. Perhaps you severed a relationship with someone, and you know that you will never be able to make it right because they’ve died. Maybe it’s just death, the passing of a grandparent, a parent, or a far too young child. Where is the hope in that?
Hope in Death
I want to bring you to a place. It is also sad, and I’m sorry you have to see it. Let me bring you to a valley. In this valley, there’s a mass grave. I don’t know what happened here, but I know it happened a long time ago. Whoever was here didn’t even bury the dead because the whole valley is nothing but scattered bones, and the bones are very dry. Whatever whispers of hope these victims had died out in the surrounding mountains decades ago. You can’t even hear the screams of despair anymore. They went silent too.
A man approaches. His name is Ezekiel. He’s having a conversation with God.
The Lord says, “Son of Man, can these bones live?”
Now Ezekiel is a man of faith, but he has no knowledge of whether this is possible. He responds in the only way that his faith knows how. “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
The Lord says, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
And Ezekiel speaks. The silence is broken. The bones rattle together, and flesh and tendon cover them, binding them together. God asks Ezekiel to speak again, and this time, breath enters the bodies. They come to life. What was once a site of a great and terrible pain has become a site exploding with life. This is the vision of Ezekiel 37. God has heard Israel, and He has promised to resurrect them.
In 589, Jerusalem was besieged and sacked by Nebuchadnezzar II. Lamentations describes a famine so terrible during the siege that women cooked and ate their own babies. Israel’s king, Zedekiah, watched as the city fell and his people were put to the sword. Nebuchadnezzar II made Zedekiah watch as his sons were killed and then gouged out his eyes so that would be the last thing he ever saw. Then Nebuchadnezzar II captured and took the entire leadership of the Israelite people and carried them off to exile in Babylon. Israel was broken. They cried out, and they felt like no one heard them.
Ezekiel has the vision of the valley of dry bones fifteen to twenty years later. People have stopped looking out the window for loved ones who are never coming back. The dead are buried, and twenty years later, people have accepted that. And then God speaks. God had heard them.
God Is Not a Superhero
We like superheroes. We like it when someone swoops in at the last minute to save the day. We like to cry out and have Superman hear us. He swoops in to save us. But God is not a superhero. Sometimes he saves us at the last minute. Sometimes miracles happen in this lifetime, and we feel the clear reach of his grace as it extends and blesses us in ways that we never thought possible. Sometimes years, even decades later, we are blessed in unimaginable ways. Sometimes.
But everyone dies. Not every story ends in a miracle. In fact, most don’t. Nobody is untouched by grief. We carry it in the sacred hollow of our hearts, the names of lost loved ones, the memories of our own mistakes. We bear the marks of death’s approach on our bodies. We age and become fragile.
What Does Hope Look Like?
If we wish to follow in Christ’s footsteps, then we cannot avoid suffering. Many Christians don’t have the answers to deal with suffering. They apply truisms to broken people like bandaids to gaping wounds. They silence grief because they don’t want to hear it– both their own grief and the grief of others. But there is someone who hears.
Hope doesn’t exclude grief. It does not silence it. Hope passes through grief. Not at a run, not sprinting through. Hope stops for the beaten man on the way to the temple. Hope cares and listens and weeps. Then hope binds our wounds and carries us. Some of those wounds scar, but hope is by our side. Our words may be greeted by silence, but hope is there. Hope listens.
But hope is more than a friend by our side. It’s not less, but it’s far more. Hope is the knowledge that your cries for grace will be heard, whether whispered in the dark or shouted off the rooftops. If you want to provide hope, listen first. Words of resurrection are powerful, but they are weak in the mouths of someone who will not suffer with others as Christ suffered for us. If you need hope, you are heard. God hears the cries of all His children, from the smallest infant to the oldest adult. Some of you will cry out in pain for twenty years, some of you for longer. He is there. He is listening, and there is an overabundance of life and grace to be found in His promised resurrection.