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May 15, 2020

The Stand

Some months ago I had a new cabinet installed in one of our bathrooms.
6 min read

 

Some months ago I had a new cabinet installed in one of our bathrooms. Since it was quite large and heavy, the installer had to make a wooden support on which the cabinet could rest while he fixed it securely to the wall. As I admired the stand in my garage, impressed with how it allowed one person to do the job of two (or more), it began to look to me like a pulpit—the kind you might find in a house of worship, where people gather to hear words of life and light. A different type of apparatus altogether, but one still meant for lending support.

I feel very much in need of support these days. The news I hear terrifies me, leaves me mourning for the dead, or worrying for the individuals on the front lines of battle. What will have happened to our poor planet when this latest plague is done burning its way through our populace? How high will the death toll rise in our country? Will any of those I love succumb to this disease? This is the gamut of questions that races through my brain.

As I look around I see exhaustion everywhere—physical, mental, and emotional. I see it in the doctors and nurses working extended shifts, mired in pain and death, running from bedside to bedside. (Do they get to eat? Take a quiet break? Process with colleagues?) I see it on the faces of those battling anxiety over lost jobs, overdue bills, school shutdowns, and dwindling supplies in their pantries.

While I don’t see it on the face of my autistic son, who has no inkling of the pandemic, I do watch him struggle with the total upending of his routine. Though he does not possess the language to ask me, I know he registers that he is no longer attending school or church, or participating in other fun activities like swimming or music therapy. When he brought me a picture of our local park the other day, my heart broke as I told him, “No, honey, we won’t be going there today.” Lately, he cries more easily, loses patience more quickly, gravitates towards repetitive activities (that we usually try to divert him from) because they soothe him. The cost of corona—it shows up as clearly in his little person as it does on those graphs of worldwide spread.

The Bible talks about exhaustion, specifically our subjective experience of it vis-à-vis our maker.  It asks whether God feels the same compassion that pierces our own hearts when we see another person—even a stranger—suffer hardship and affliction that won’t let up. It asks whether we can count on God to reach down from His lofty heights and help us. And it asks: does the Creator ever go numb or indifferent the way we do when we have been pushed beyond the brink of our endurance, way past caring?

As I have considered these questions, I’ve come across a passage that not only contains a high concentration of the Hebrew verbs for “faint” and “grow weary,” it also lays bare the secret doubts many of us have when we are scared and spent. Listen to one ancient poet nail that knot of subversive thinking right on the head:

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? (Is 40:27 NAS)

In other words, where the heck are You when I need You the most? Don’t You care?

In the next verses, the poet swiftly answers with some edgy questions of his own:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary

His understanding is unsearchable. (Is 40:28 ESV)

With these words the poet seems to be saying: First things first. Before the cries of your heart can be answered, you must grasp some basics about God. Let’s begin with some of His names.

First, he is called Elohei olam—a rare title that might be translated from the Hebrew as God of eternity, or God of all time—past, present, and future. (See “everlasting God” above). Second, He is also the Creator, or Boreh, another special title that refers to a type of creating that only God can do (think of the creation story in Genesis, where the verb form of this word first appears in the Bible).

Put these two qualities together—infinite presence and infinite creative powers— and you start getting a picture of the otherness of God. Unlike human beings, He never gets tired. He never gets confused or confounded by problems, no matter their depth or complexity. The Lord God, Creator of earth, simply does not suffer the same limitations as you or me. He stands above them, hands poised to reshape situations as He sees fit, as deftly as a potter shapes clay.

“But what about this infinite God’s attitude?” you may ask. “Sure, He is able to intervene if He wants to, but does He want to?” These questions may reverberate especially loudly if you grew up with parents who were other than what you needed in your childhood. Meaning, they either would not, or could not, care for you as they should have, leaving you wounded and distrustful.

Listen to the poet’s take on that very legitimate point:

He gives strength to the weary

And to him who lacks might He increases power.

Though youths grow weary and tired

And vigorous young men stumble badly. (Is 40:29-30 NAS)

Thankfully, this all-knowing, all-powerful God not only stands ready to resuscitate His children, He actually seems to seek out the ones who need His help the most—period.

What I don’t hear in these verses is talk of who deserves divine help and who does not, as if there were some kind of moral criteria that needs to be met to gain assistance. Nor do I hear anything about pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, as if by dint of effort those who are exhausted should somehow be able to save themselves.

Rather there is a clear acknowledgment that everyone will need an infusion of power at some point, even the strongest amongst us (i.e., “youths” and “young men”).

But this infusion does not come automatically. The Creator does require one thing to renew His children’s strength:

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength

They shall mount up with wings like eagles

They shall run and not be weary

They shall walk and not faint (Is 40:31 ESV)

The key word here is “wait,” or kavah in the Hebrew, which denotes a specific type of waiting. To kavah is to place one’s hope in someone or something and eagerly watch for its appearing. Sometimes it is translated as “to hope” in the Bible. Either way, the Lord of these verses wants His children to expect Him to appear on the scene and attend to their needs. (What would their outcries sound like then?)

The poet promises that those who wait in this fashion will undergo a transformation—perhaps even as they are still waiting—changing from sufferers languishing on the ground where they have collapsed to eagles soaring in the sky. That the poet chooses a bird image to describe this metamorphosis harkens back to the very opening of Genesis, when the Spirit of God also hovers like a bird over the waters of creation right before the Boreh begins His work (see Gen 1:2).

Could it be, that as we look for God to help us recover from our exhaustion, we may become a little bit more like Him? From what I have witnessed of healthcare workers who have healed from COVID-19 and are now presumed immune, the answer is yes. Many cannot wait to jump back into the battle to save lives, knowing they will now be able to operate in a new, empowered state. Surely that attitude gives us a glimpse of how God yearns to use His powers to help His children in their distress, a yearning that we can attribute to His love for them.

Today, if you know that the project or challenge in front of you will surely crush you if you go it alone, let a centuries-old scripture offer you its wisdom. By all means band together with those around you in gratitude, service, and solidarity, acknowledging that we are all in this together.

But if, like my son, you find that your circumstances still exceed not only your strength but also your comprehension, look up from your framework of support to where the eagle flies. There is One who is able to help you because He is NOT the same as you, but quite other. Quite beyond the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that drain us all of vitality and joy. Try whispering a prayer to that God and keep a weary eye open for His appearing. Also, watch for a change in yourself —however small—as you hang on in hope.

May we all find the rest we desperately need, body and soul. Both in each other and in the Boreh, Creator of all the earth.