How Long, O Lord? (part 2)

(…continued from earlier post How Long, O Lord?)

All of these reminded me of the psalms of lamentation, where the psalmist cries “How long, O Lord?” in the midst of suffering and pain.

“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”*
“How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?”*
“Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?”*

The above questions are contained in what is called Book 3 of the Psalter, a section which includes several lamentations and cries for help. The three psalms from which the questions come, for example, are calls for national deliverance of Israel.

Still, just as Israel is considered as God’s special people, I suppose human beings can similarly be considered as God’s special creation. After all, we are the only beings whom God created in His own image. And just as the Israelite psalmist wonders how long God will allow His people Israel to suffer, I also wondered, while in the ER, how long God will allow human beings to suffer—from diseases, accidents, and from their own evil deeds against each other.

The Bible says that God is love. If so, how come He does not intervene when a being He created in His image suffers? How can He watch people hurt, maim, and kill each other, and not be moved to intervene? How can He bear to watch a daughter cry over her father, slowly dying from a gunshot wound in the head? How can He give Satan such free rein to inflict damage to His creation? Like the psalmist, I want to ask “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” **

I want to cry out, “What’s holding you back, God? Why don’t you retake your creation now? Why don’t you throw Satan and his devils into the pit, now? Why don’t you stop the destruction, the pain, and the suffering, now?” My soul cries out in the words of St. Paul, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Come and retake your kingdom, throw out the usurper!

Then, by His grace, I am reminded that God IS already on the throne. Satan HAS been deposed. The Kingdom of God HAS come with the coming of Jesus. Since then, all the suffering and destruction wrought on God’s creation have been the last, vicious, dying throes of a defeated enemy, wanting only to destroy as much as he can before it is finally over and he is completely bound, unable to inflict any more damage.

Because He is gracious, instead of being angry, God enables me to do what the psalmist did: I call to mind the deeds of the Lord. I remember what God has done. I meditate on His goodness. As the psalmist meditates on how He has fulfilled His promises to Abraham and to Israel, I remember how God has provided for those who have put their trust in Him, how many times He has protected them and guided them. I remember that, if it were not for Him, I would not even be able to think about Him or write about Him. I could have been born with no mental capacity at all to appreciate Him. I could have died in my sleep last night, and not be typing what I am writing now. The fact that many are suffering does not negate the truth that many have been blessed, and that all of us who are recipients of His blessings have never deserved the good things we have received from our Creator.

I had known all this before. But I had never actually seen a person shot through the head before. I had never experienced being confronted with hurting people every five to ten minutes or so (and my experience even now was only indirect, as a spectator!). And to think that this was only an ordinary weekend morning in a public hospital. I cannot imagine what the effects are on people who work in calamity areas where there are dozens, even hundreds, of dead bodies, or on soldiers and doctors in the battlefield. I realize that, like Job, I have only been hearing about God; I still have to truly see Him.

In the end, I realize that I am too small and stupid to question God, much less tell Him when and how to intervene in His created world. After all, if it were up to me, I would never have thought of the sacrifice of His beloved Son as THE way to save all people who believe in Him. Truly, His ways are higher than my ways, and His thoughts are infinitely higher than my thoughts.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, God has already shown His love. Through the resurrection of Christ, God has already shown His power. Through my death and resurrection in union with Christ, He has already demonstrated His mercy and grace. Through His past provisions He has already shown His faithfulness. I call to mind the deeds and faithful character of the Lord, and my disturbed spirit is calmed. And even this calmness, I know, is not of my own doing, but is a gift from His Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that, by His grace, He will enable me to see Him more clearly and thus trust Him even more. And this prayer is not only for myself, but also for the patients and the staff at the ER that Saturday morning, that we will all learn to trust Him even when it seems that the enemy has free rein.

I pray that God will give us so much assurance, evidence, and personal experience of His goodness, power, and justice, that when things seem to go all wrong, we will still trust Him because we will remember that He is good, faithful, just, loving, and all-wise.

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;
I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77 (NIV)

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*   From Psalms 89:46, 79:5, and 74:1, respectively.
** From Psalm 74:10-11.

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How Long, O Lord?

This morning I met an accident, where I almost lost my right ring finger. I rushed myself to the Emergency Room of the East Avenue Medical Center, and the staff had to cut my wedding ring in order to allow them access to the wound so that they can clean it and then suture it.

The ER was full of people in suffering and pain. When I arrived, the beds were full of poor people in dirty clothes, some with dextrose bags attached to them, some half-naked and bleeding. They had all met various accidents. What was striking was that, on two beds, patients were lying with their mouths open and a tube inserted, with the tube attached to what looked like an oblong rubber bag which was being squeezed rhythmically by a relative or friend standing beside the bed. They had to be given precious oxygen through somebody else patiently squeezing a rubber bag in the correct rhythm, for hours at a time!

Just then a man came in, crying loudly in pain. He had accidentally poured boiling water on himself, and his body from his stomach down had suffered third degree burns. He was naked, having immediately rushed from his bathroom, and he was just covered with a blanket. Another bed was immediately brought out, and when he was laid on it I could see parts of his leg and part of his side, near the stomach, with the skin burned off. His anguished cries filled the room, and I did not even want to imagine the pain he was going through.

Then a big man came in. He had apparently been thrown off his motorbike, and his mouth and the knuckles of his right hand were bleeding.

Then a little girl was brought in, trembling in the arms of her weeping mother. The girl had been hit by a motorcycle while they were crossing the street, and she had sustained wounds in her hands, legs, and forehead.

Then about fifteen minutes of relative peace. The burned man had apparently been given anesthesia, or some pain-deadening substance had been applied on his burns. The room was relatively quiet, everybody just waiting for something, some medicine to be brought in or some relative to arrive.

Then a security guard approached the table where I was waiting for my own treatment, and where the doctor-in-charge was checking some records. “Shot wound”, the guard announced.

Immediately all available doctors, nurses, and other attendants rushed to the ER entrance, through which a big burly man, naked from the waist up and barefoot, came in carrying in his arms an equally big man, also half-naked, mouth open and with a bloodied handkerchief wrapped around the top of his head.

The wounded man had been shot in the head, along with a companion who was brought to another hospital.  The staff attended to him for about an hour, and finally left him with his half-naked friend so that they can go back to the other patients. From where I sat, I could see his stomach heaving mightily with his breathing.

Overhearing the conversations of the medical staff, I gathered that the man had been shot point blank, and that pieces of his brain were found on his trousers when he was brought in, and on the tricyle which was used to transport him to the ER.

After a while I heard loud wailing and cries of “Papa! You can make it! Fight for your life! Papa! Fight for your life! You can make it!” The man’s daughter, who looked to be only in her twenties, had arrived with another female relative. “You promised me you wouldn’t leave me, Papa! You promised me you wouldn’t leave me! Fight for your life! Please, Papa!”

After some minutes of crying and pleading loudly at the bedside of her father, the young woman and her companion approached the doctor who was again standing near me.

“He’ll make it, won’t he? He’ll make it”, she pleaded with the doctor. “I know he will. I have faith he will. He’s still breathing!”

The doctor calmly explained that the bullet had torn through the man’s brains, and finally said, “I cannot offer you false hope. Yes, he’s breathing, and his heart is beating. But there’s a 99 percent chance that he won’t make it.”

(To be continued…)

 

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