A sign in the heavens
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence!” (Is 64:1 ESV)
The old hymn says, “This is my Father’s world.” But when Maltbie Babcock wrote those words, he knew as well as anyone that what he habitually called “the Father’s world,” was very far from being the way the Father wants it. He and his wife Katherine had already buried their only two children, both as infants. In faith and hope marked by struggle and pain he wrote, “O let me ne'er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
The wrong has seemed pretty strong, lately.
That’s the way it has seemed around the world, with death and destruction in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel & Palestine, South Sudan, Nigeria… Ebola ravaging West Africa… children fleeing for their lives from gang violence in Central America… Mexican college students attacked by those sworn to preserve the rule of law… governments in many places not protecting, but preying upon their own… and on, and on. God’s world, but not the way God wants it.
That’s the way it has seemed, too, across the U.S. And, most recently, in the heart of the U.S. I do not pretend to know the truth about Ferguson. But something—no, make that many somethings have certainly gone horribly wrong. This cannot be the world that God wants. Not for the Brown family. Not for the Wilson family. Not for Ferguson. Not for the U.S. Not for the world.
In the face of all of this, what does it mean to celebrate Thanksgiving with integrity? Do I simply thank God for all the good in the life I get to live—and in the lives of those closest to me? Does giving thanks to God require turning away from the truth about evil and suffering in our world? God forbid.
In a special way this week, I have been struck by the importance of giving thanks not just for what we have, but for what we hope, not just for blessings provided, but for blessings promised. On this Thanksgiving Day, aware of wounds near and far, I have given thanks especially for the day that is coming when God will wipe every tear from every eye, when pain and death will be no more, and when the peoples of the earth will be healed (Revelation 21-22). Evil and suffering and injustice and death will not have the last word. God in Christ will have the last word, and the marvelous creation that now groans in travail will be put to rights.
That is something worth giving thanks for, today. That is something worth living for, today.
The prophet Isaiah knew this truth, many centuries ago. Inspired by the Spirit of God, he painted a beautiful word picture of the new creation that is coming (Isaiah 65:17-25).
Filled with that blessed hope and faced with the radically different reality that surrounded him, just one chapter earlier Isaiah cried out in anguish: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” to set the world right, right now (Isaiah 64:1)! We hope, we serve, we give thanks and we cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”
It should be no surprise that Jesus, whom the Gospel writer Mark saw as God’s decisive move toward answering the cry of Isaiah (Mark 1:10), taught his followers both to live as salt and light, and also to cry out, “Thy kingdom come!”
Lord, thank you for what you have already done. Thank you that there is still so much more to come. Come, Lord Jesus. Rend the heavens! Bring the fullness of your Reign!