“Bhutto, 54, had hoped the huge popular following she enjoyed among the Pakistani poor would propel her to power for the third time as prime minister in an election meant to stabilise a country racked by Islamist violence.
But as she left the rally, where she spoke of threats to her life, she stood up to wave to supporters from the sun-roof of her bullet-proof vehicle. The attacker fired shots at her before blowing himself up, police and witnesses said. She was pronounced dead in hospital in Rawalpindi…” (Kamran Haider, “Bhutto assassination plunges Pakistan into turmoil,”
(Reuters UK, Dec 28, 2007)
Once again, evil triumphs. Once again there seems to be nothing that we can do to stop the forces of death and destruction.
I watched the news report of Bhutto’s assassination and felt the fatigue of a long, hard year. I thought that at least in death, Bhutto no longer has to carry the burdens of this life. (Whatever new burdens, if any, she now carries in the next, God knows.) Sometimes, when you are very tired, death looks attractive.
Fatigue comes in many forms. Physical and emotional fatigue are real enough. But the real killer is the fatigue that comes from continuing to choose the side of the angels when daily it seems that the devils have the day. While there seems little chance that we will switch sides and line up with Lucifer, the thought does come “Why bother?”
Which is why I am really glad I took along John Goldingay’s Walk On (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002) on my recent trip to Melbourne. In the introduction, Goldingay says that Psalm 73 was one of the passages of Scripture that helped sustain him when he discovered that his wife to be, Ann, had multiple sclerosis. And Psalm 73 was precisely what I needed as I come to the close of a very demanding year.
In the Psalm, the psalmist also struggles with the “why bother” question. Why bother struggling to be faithful to God when all you get are problems while those who thumb their noses at God prosper and are seemingly untouched by the vicissitudes of life.
V. 6-8 seem particularly apt in describing the proud and the violent who arrogantly push their agendas at will, both in the Psalmist’s day and in ours.
“Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. >From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. ” (TNIV)
The Psalmist’s “ah-ha” moment comes when he enters the temple.
“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. ”
(V. 16 and 17 TNIV)
In the temple the Psalmist sees things from a divine perspective and often that is a long term perspective. He realises that the prosperity of the evil is merely temporary and therefore illusory. The fate of those who turn their backs on God is judgement, sure and final. But those who are true to God have God Himself as their reward both now and for eternity. God and His purposes will triumph.
In football (soccer) parlance, our team is going to win in the end. That is a given. So we will not be shaken even though the enemy team seems to be on top at half time. It is the final score that counts.
In our time of confusion, we need to follow the Psalmist as he goes to the sanctuary. Like the Psalmist we need to see history from a divine and long term perspective. Only then can we find the strength to carry on. Only then will we find the motivation to “hold up our candles of light instead of cursing the darkness.” Only then will we be able to obey God’s injunctions in Romans 12: 17-21:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Goldingay points to verses 23-26 as particularly comforting to him in his moment of crisis (p.10). I found the same verses particularly apt as I face a new year.
“Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. ”
I do not know what 2008 will bring. But I do know that whatever happens, God will be there. He will guide me with His counsel (if I maintain a teachable heart). And if 2008 is the year the Lord chooses to take me home, He will take me into glory.
Indeed “my flesh and my heart may fail” but “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” And that is all I need to know.