Last Friday, I began aching. I couldn’t get warm. I woke up 14 hours later: Exhausted. After being up a couple of hours, I had to lie down. I slept for 6 more hours. That’s been my routine this week. I don’t have a fever. I can breathe okay. I sleep 16-18 hours a day and when awake, I don’t move much. I’ve been living like a rainforest sloth: Sleep punctuated by small intervals of slow-motion activity.
I’ve been tested for Covid-19, and I’m awaiting results. Being sick isn’t fun. Besides feeling terrible, I’ve cycled through every emotion. Denial: This can’t be. Anger: I took every precaution! Regret: I’ve let the church down. Despair: I feel worthless. Gratitude: Somehow, I’m muddling through. And, oddest of all: Love.
One night I was struggling with all of this when God silently seemed to whisper: “I will love you through this.” I immediately thought: “Forget loving me. Just cure me!” As I recoiled from being so honest and angry with God, there was silence. And then God simply, patiently, silently said, “I will love you through this.” I’ve been reflecting on that ever since. Some of us need remedial instruction from God. At least I do.
I don’t know what the psalmist was going through when he wrote Psalm 139, but I doubt if he was celebrating. Defeat, suffering, and calamity cause reflection. Sometimes those things so break open your egocentric world that you catch a glimpse of God’s wider world — where, yes, bad things happen, but where those events and our essence are all ingathered by the inescapable God, who holds everything — and us — in love.
Where can we go where God isn’t? God in Christ even penetrated and was pierced by suffering, death, and the grave, which he conquered and from which he shall deliver us. So, if you feel you are in hell, God is with you (verse 8). If you’re at the end of your rope, God is there, too. If you’re experiencing a dark night of the soul, the God of light is there (verse 11-12). You may not feel that, but it’s true. God will love you through your present trials and celebrate with you in your future triumphs. God will never leave you. Love, as Paul reminds us, never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8).
If you forget that truth, that Truth won’t forget you. That Love will establish you in life even when you come to the end of your life: “I come to the end,” the psalmist says; “and — what do you know? — I am still with You (verse 18).” And if you are with the God of Life, who loves you with an eternal, resurrecting love, then you, too, shall live.
When going through hell, hang onto that. And if you’re too overwhelmed to hang onto that, just know that that Love is hanging onto you; is loving you through your present desolation — which will not have the last word. God will. And that word is: Love, life, salvation, blessing, and peace. That will be — because God is. Now and forever. Amen.