On Holy Saturday, as we await the Easter Vigil when we can finally shout the Easter acclamation, we hear these words of lament and comfort:
“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
For over two years these words have found me during months of waiting in isolation and anxiety.
But at first glance the writer’s earlier words are not where I am. I can’t see all this adversity as God’s doing. People who know me and my theology will not be surprised to hear me say that. Yes, as I’ve said before, I’m an eccentric sort of process theologian—every happening is intimately enlivened, sustained, and reconcilingly embraced by God. But it is not controlled (if controlled, it wouldn’t be enlivened). Disasters like this pandemic are the daunting result of the uncontrollable creativity God shares with all God’s creatures, not part of some morally questionable plan. Enough about that. Let me commend an essay by another process theologian, Catherine Keller, that I have found particularly helpful.
Of course, maybe the writer is just saying how it feels, without trying to be consistent. Life is feeling like a punishment from God, an expression of a wrathful deity. The writer paints a vivid picture of that. And if we’re talking about how life can feel, I can join this writer after all. I may think I know differently, but often what we know intellectually has a little power over what we feel viscerally.
(Example: did you ever feel like yelling at your car when it wouldn’t start? You know intellectually that the car can’t hear you, but you find yourself viscerally wanting to yell at it anyway, as if it could hear you.)
But then, in the depths of what looks like total despair, the writer remembers that this is not who God is: “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” What feels like divine punishment is not the final truth about God. God is a God of steadfast love and ceaseless mercy.
On Holy Saturday, as we wait for sundown, we wait with hope, hope that steadfast love and ceaseless mercy will dawn upon us. It may happen in ways we can’t foresee, but we trust that it will somehow happen.