Devastation seems to be the word most commonly used to describe the current reality seizing our nation (and, indeed, other parts of the world such as Mexico) as we’ve entered the fall season. We’ve only just begun to help the hundreds of thousands of people across the Gulf Coast, Key West, Cuba, and Florida recover from the hurricanes. We can’t even get aid to parts of Puerto Rico and other areas of the Caribbean where peoples’ lives continue to be threatened in its aftermath. And buried under the emergency response to these areas, the federal government still has yet to file papers declaring the Opioid Crisis a federal emergency forcing states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast to declare their own emergencies. And now this: a lone gunman opens fire from a hotel room high above thousands attending the Route 91 Country Music Festival Sunday night in Las Vegas killing 59 and injuring 527. This now qualifies as the worst mass shooting incident in U.S. history.
For some of us, Monday was spent close to our television sets as news continued to pour in and tears continued to pour out. A call to our adult children in Palo Alto and Pasadena confirmed their health as well as their sadness telling us that, now more than ever, they’re looking forward to being together with family at Thanksgiving. One of our church members immediately flew to Los Angeles to be with her daughter who, having been part of the crowd, escaped without physical injury but with what many have come to expect as a sort of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome having experienced such devastation first-hand.
So how are we to even make sense of such devastation through which we seem to be living? If you’re expecting something profound from me this week, reading my blog may disappoint you. For, quite simply, I am devastated too. So, from time to time when I experience devastation, I return to what is perhaps a lesser known book in the Hebrew Bible called Lamentations. Being a small book, it is comprised of only five chapters filled with the disillusionment that comes from experiencing the devastation when the forces of darkness seem to prevail against the faithful. Yet, at the very center of this text appear the following words: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23). So if you’ve hung around church for as long as I have, or even longer, you’ll probably recognize these words which inspired the popular hymn we sing at least once a year to recall the nature of God during the darkest of times. The lyrics go like this:
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
So I wish I could have made sense for such dark times through which we are living. Alas, I cannot. All I have to offer is this small, unassuming Book of Lamentations and a well-sung hymn. Perhaps this will be enough to help us make it through the devastation.
– Pastor Lee Neish