“LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” — Psalm 90:1-2
(The reader is encouraged to have a Bible open to the psalm under consideration–Ed.)
You should know the name Iwo Jima. It’s a small Pacific island 760 miles south of Tokyo, a strategic bit of volcanic sand that cost almost 7,000 American casualties, but became a turning point in the Pacific theater in World War II. That was fifty years ago and articles like this appeared on Saturday, marking the time and place memorialized by the catastrophe.
Days of infamy, days of disaster have shock value even fifty years later. But in counterbalance, I must ask, what of all the other days? The normal ones, the ones that lack the shock value of Pearl Harbor and Kennedy’s assassination? Happy UNbirthday has a lot to be said for it.
Here at the tag end of winter, I look back at a lot of infamous events that did NOT happen. We should note a long list of days safely and comfortably passed in which we suffered no trauma. Though it may be that from the newspaper’s perspective this winter lies awash in bad news, I am not ready to surrender the high ground, for I share the psalmist’s hopeful and thankful view of God’s kindnesses, even as I recognize the fragility of human life.
“For all our days have passed away in Your wrath,” (v. 9) he says, and we acknowledge that we “have seen evil” (v. 15) this winter–from crime in the streets to obscenity and debauchery on the TV screen. I grant, on one hand, that a vortex of evil swirls about us and amongst us like a firestorm of war–yet is it not manifest at the same time that you and I have been spared a whole barrage of infamous events that never happened?
Let us start at the top of the endless list: the biggest infamy that did NOT take place on this planet this winter would be the headlines that never got printed, reading: GOD HAS QUIT BEING GOD; next day the headline on Sunday: JESUS QUIT BEING THE SAVIOR; followed by this one today: THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS GIVEN UP TRYING TO SALVAGE SOULS.
In actuality, on the positive side we have this news from the spokesman of God (largely bypassed in the public press and even the pulpit): “LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (vv. 1-2).
Further, in a list of preposterous horrors that have not happened, neither fifty years ago at the tag end of four years of bloody war, nor today in urban jungles, a headline reading: “GOD HAS GIVEN UP ON HUMANITY–He doesn’t care if we all go to hell eternally, unrepentant and unsalvaged; it’s such an uphill struggle with sinners who don’t comprehend their problem.”
You may have seen a person growing so dull in spirit that he dismisses God from his life, as a child grows up to dismiss Santa Claus. Would it not be a horrendous act of infamy to find that God, in response to being trapped that way, would throw up His hands in despair and mutter: “I give up! I quit!”
Thank God such a day of infamy has not happened yet.
Thank God He is still on the job, ever putting His finger on sin, getting people like you and me to perceive our ulcer of anger, or of lust, or of selfish discontent. “You turn man to destruction–(face it, there is HELL without God)–and say, Return, O children of men . . . For we have been consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are terrified. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance . . . ” (vv. 3, 7-8). We realize that these are blessings that come from God NOT giving up on us. Every conscience-stricken moment of guilt you have ever had is a blessing NOT to be regretted. “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v.12). And the best wisdom to which we apply our hearts is the blessed wisdom that God has attended to our needs in the gift of His dear Son.
Time for one more huge catastrophe we have escaped that could have descended on us? Picture these headlines: JESUS HAS CANCELLED CHRISTMAS–He has decided to relax in His celestial Strato-lounger and on December 25th after one bored sidelong glance at our world, He stifled a big yawn and turned to the auditioning troupe of angel carolers and told them to forget it; so neither He nor they ever made it to Bethlehem. Jesus abandoned the human race to its pet perversions and self-destruction, about which He couldn’t care less.
In blessed actuality, Jesus took the job of Savior and stayed on the job, as the psalmist reminds us: “Let Your work appear to Your servants, and Your glory to their children” (v.16). Here we are–their children generations later, still beholding the glorious realities that God yet IS God, that Jesus still IS our Savior from the deep graveyard of hell, and that God still cares about you and me.
You may go on with this preposterous parable, and draw up your own list of all the horrifying, hellish events that did NOT happen to this planet, or to you on it. Memorialize them for yourself and be thankful God has spared us from the unbearable tragedies. Indeed, “let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us” (v. 17)–as it always has been, is now, and ever shall be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(From the “chapel-talks” file of Prof. em. Paul R. Koch)