Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Time is Coming When All Shall Be Well

(Read Revelation 9:36-43 and Psalm 23)

This week I spent some time with Frank Evert, Doug and Audrey’s son, who runs the non-profit Water Without Borders. Water Without Borders was created from the understanding that lack of safe drinking water is the leading cause of disease, civil strife, hunger and birth defects in the world. WWB is committed to providing safe drinking water to the world’s citizens wherever they may be. They have worked with the Dakota tribe in South Dakota and with an orphanage in Africa. Most recently, Doug went to Haiti to see what they might be able to do down there to help.

Doug said that the need in Haiti is greater than we can imagine. The hungry and thirsty are everywhere. He visited the town of Jacmel, which was devastated in the recent earthquake. Jacmel had drinkable city water before the earthquake, but the system of pipes and filtration was destroyed. Doug doubts if city water will be restored in Jacmel within 10 years. When Doug arrived, the Haitians took him to see the current source of water for the city. It was a water hole of sorts, and not only were there people drinking out of, there was a pig laying in it and some men washing in it. He said it was horrible even to witness, let alone drink from.

Doug also visited a community of Haitians who lived up in the mountains. These people had not been affected by the earthquake, but because they lived up high, where it was difficult to transport resources, they too struggled to get clean drinking water. They too were thirsty and hungry. In order to get water, these people had to walk two hours to the nearest water sources; one was downhill, the other uphill. The problem is, even this water that they retrieve is contaminated. The best solution for the mountain people is to have small filtration systems in their homes so that they can clean the water themselves after they fetch it.

Witnessing such great poverty was very upsetting, but Doug said the most disturbing thing he saw was a baby girl dying of malnutrition. Doug went to a Bible study one morning, and the baby was lying in a woman’s lap. Doug said she didn’t look much bigger than a doll; she was incredibly skinny, her eyes weren’t open, and she wasn’t moving or crying or laughing, but just lying there. The woman explained that they had just rescued the girl the day before, that she was starving and that she was five months old.

Many, many people in Haiti hunger and thirst.

But we know the problem is bigger than Haiti. Many, many people in Ethiopia hunger and thirst. (65 percent of the world's hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. (Source: The State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2008)

Even in the United States, there are many, many people who hunger and thirst. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that in 2008:Of the 49.1 million people living in food insecure households (up from 36.2 million in 2007), 32.4 million are adults (14.4 percent of all adults) and 16.7 million are children (22.5 percent of all children).

To hunger and to thirst is part of the human condition, and it is both a physical and a spiritual matter.

There is a great spiritual hunger in the world right now as well. People are hungry for love and family and community. People are hungry for a sense of wellbeing. With how busy everyone is these days, and all the demands we face each day, just to feel relaxed and not rushed is a luxury. Perhaps the reason we are seeing so many people on anti-depressants is because the current pace of societal life is just too fast and overwhelming to the senses.

Oftentimes those with a spiritual hunger try to fill their voids through physical consumption. We long for peace, but we don’t know how to get it, so we take drugs and drink alcohol. We long for love, but we don’t feel it from anyone around us, so we eat macaroni and cheese and ice cream and potato chips, and let them comfort us—temporarily, of course.

The Christian hope is that a time will come when all this suffering will end. A time when we will hunger no more, thirst no more, cry no more. A time when all will be well.

In Revelation: 7, we are given a prophecy that describes the final consummation of all things. Now there is lack, but then there will be nothing lacking. Now there is suffering and crying, but then there will be no more suffering and no more crying. Jesus’ message is called “Good News” because it offers hope to the oppressed, deprived and downtrodden.

A wise theologian wrote, “In heaven, tears have no future. They only have a past.” He means that in eternity, we will remember the former things, including the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness that we went through. We will remember our trials and tribulations, but that’s all they will be-memories. We will never have to live through them again. “In heaven, tears have no future. They only have a past.”

Revelation says that a great multitude has gathered together at the throne of God and before the Lamb, and they are crying out in loud voices, “Salvation belongs to our God” (Rev 7:10). And they are worshipping God, singing praises, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev 7:12). The multitude, which includes people of every nation and tribe and language, is incredibly grateful. They are ecstatic! That is because God has just rescued them from a great ordeal.

I don’t speculate to know exactly what this great ordeal that they have come out of looks like, but I’m sure it was a scary time, filled with great hardship and suffering. And I do believe that it is God who rescues them and brings them safely to a new place. “A place where “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat…[the shepherd] will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17).

As we go through our own great ordeals in life, as we hunger and thirst in this world, as we cry from lack and want, it will help us not to be short-sighted, but to step out of our present moment suffering for a moment to remember there is a bigger picture. The kind of reality that humanity must endure now will not go on forever. It will come to an end. Some of the healing will come in this life. ALL OF THE HEALING will come in the next.

I finally understand what Paul is saying when he writes, “I understand that the hardships of this present reality are nothing compared to the glory about to be revealed to us.”

What is to come is glorious and safe and loving for all people, and so we can make it through the difficult times, we can endure because we know something better is coming.

The time is coming when all shall be well. The words “All shall be well” should remind you of the saint Julian of Norwich. She was a mystical young woman that I think we all can relate to. She went through rough periods in life when she suffered greatly and doubted the presence of God’s existence and help. Then, she would go through peaceful, and even joyful, periods in life when she was happy and felt God’s love. One might say she went through periods of desolation and consolation. She prayed to God about this, and one day, the Lord answered her in her understanding: “And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly in this fashion: I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I may make all things well and I can make all things well; and you will see that yourself, that all things will be well” (Norwich, Julian. Classics of Western Spirituality. pg. 151).

The vision Julian had was so powerful that it was able to sustain her with some hope and comfort even during periods of desolation. That’s what this vision in Revelation can do for us. It can sustain us more completely during the bad times because we know that the day will come when the tragedies of time will be replaced by the endless joys of eternity.

The Haitians will no longer hunger or thirst.

The Ethiopians will no longer hunger or thirst.

The Americans will no longer hunger or thirst.

Not in a physical sense and not in a spiritual sense either.

Evidence of God’s saving power is already around us. Remember that little 5 month old baby that looked as though she was going to die of hunger? The Haitian woman who rescued her began feeding her this peanut butter mix that contains all the nutrients necessary to sustain life (it’s one of the great developments we’ve had to fight against malnutrition), and within five days the baby was already gaining weight. Frank Evert said that when he saw her again, her eyes were open, her cheeks were getting chubby and she was cooing.

Life is amazing! Life is resilient!

Those people who live in the mountains in Haiti, WWB’s figures that for $100, they could have home water filtration systems, which would save 100s, 1,000s of lives. Life is resilient because it keeps coming back. It keeps finding ways. Even in the devastated town of Jacmel, clean water is available to the people for as little as $175 a week. It is possible that they will not hunger or thirst much longer.

And what about us here? How resilient you are to come back time and again from your struggles, your pain. We see signs of the eternal promise around us, and we can feel the eternal promise within us whenever our hope returns and our hearts open back up.

Now is just a hint of the glory to come. One day we will truly know what it means to say, “The Lord is my shepherd. I do not want. I do not lack. I lie in green pastures. God is leading me beside still waters. My soul is restored. I am walking the right path now. There is no more stumbling. There is no more dark valley. No more evil. No more enemies. There is no more thirst. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life, and I am dwelling in the house of the Lord now and forevermore.

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