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The church has waited long
Her absent Lord to see.

Absence is the issue. You’ve been absent for a long time, and we’ve been waiting and waiting. I know we’re supposed to see you in the beauty of the lilies and in the stranger’s face and all that. The statues, the paintings, they give a little comfort. But it’s not the same. Lately I’ve been feeling a lot of emptiness. Deus absconditus. This darkness is evidently nothing new, seeing as there’s a Latin name for it. Where are you?  

Age after age has gone
Sun after sun has set.

We pray to you, we hear stories about you, we read and read your puzzling words. Sometimes we feel “a presence.” This is the time of year when we’re all supposed to pretend that you’ve arrived and wish each other peace and joy, comfort and hope. I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to manufacture any cheer. The tinsel and the rituals do nothing for me. I think of the days and ages passing, all our yesterdays and tomorrows creeping in this petty pace, signifying nothing.  

The serpent’s brood increase,
The powers of hell grow bold.

The problem is, it seems to be getting worse down here. Have you noticed? Are you even paying attention? The wrong seems oft so strong, and you’re supposed to be our ruler yet. We exclaim your lordship in church to the accompaniment of organs and trumpets. We reassure each other in hushed tones that you are still in control—especially when some senseless tragedy happens. But what difference does it make? Looks to me as if the devil is winning. The devil has people calling right wrong and wrong right, and no one can convince them otherwise.    

The conflict thickens, faith is low,
And love is waxing cold.

And you know who’s the worst? The people who claim your name, that’s who. I show up in church, but in my heart, I’m fleeing to the arms of the pagans. You know why? Because they’re the ones calling a spade a spade these days. They’re the ones who long for justice, do the work of repair, fight for what’s right, care for those on the margins. Your people are supposed to model humility and bear the cross, but instead they’re obsessed with power, licking it up, bowing down to it. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. Of course, we’ve seen this in other places and times. Why do you let this keep happening?

We long to hear thy voice,
To see thee face to face.

Why don’t you just come and fix things? Prince of peace, the government shall be upon your shoulders, risen with healing in your wings, king this and sovereign that. Let’s see it, shall we? All this slow and small behind the scenes stuff: it’s not enough! What we need right now is a recognizable superhero, the kind who sweeps in and actually gets the job done in a few hours of screen time. We are never going to rescue ourselves, even equipped with faith, hope, and love or whatever. Even guided and comforted by some mysterious and unseen Spirit. We need decisive action. How about it?   

The whole creation groans
And waits to hear that voice
That shall restore her comeliness
And make her wastes rejoice.

You realize we’re wrecking the earth. This beautiful earth, in all its resilience and variety, this wonder you created with your divine wisdom, your cosmic voice—we’re blasting and blighting it. We greedy little dirt-beasts, we fools who arrogantly imagine ourselves to be gods. Even the ones who see what’s happening, even when they all join together in mighty protest, can barely budge the forces of destruction, or at least it seems so. Where are you?  

Come Lord and wipe away
The curse, the sin, the stain,
And make this blighted world of ours
Thine own fair world again.

I don’t know what to do. No matter how hard I ache and strain toward peace and healing, no matter how I long for you to come and judge with righteousness and equity, I can’t get any traction. I pray and sing and go through the motions, many of us do. We devise our little programs and projects. We plod on day to day, nourished by “glimpses.” But until you come, we dwell helplessly in the curse. We’re all of us so tired.

I know you like to work with nothing, against the odds, by surprise. I bet Mary expected her life to pass in unremarkable obscurity right up until the very moment you sent an angel and announced the tide was turning. I bet the shepherds figured the great machinations of history would pass on by, far above their unwashed heads, until the very second the heavenly hosts appeared—suddenly, as we like to say.

Well, then. That’s just the place I’m in: a weary lack of expectation.

Come, then, Lord Jesus, come.
Come, then, Lord Jesus.
Come, then, Lord Jesus, come.
Come, come, come.

“The Church Has Waited Long.” Words by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). First published in 1845. Tune by Kenny Hutson and Katy Bowser. Arranged by Steven Rodriguez with harmonies by Philip Rienstra. Sung by Lauren Figueroa and Philip Rienstra, accompanied by Rachel Klompmaker on piano and Kristen Zoetewey on flute, along with the congregation of Church of the Servant CRC, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2018).

One Comment

  • Roger Gelwicks says:

    Thanks, Debra, for your lament in this article. I don’t know if you are really as downcast toward God as what you portray. And then it may be just a passing spell you’re going through, or the use of artistic license to seem dramatic. But in reality, I think what you express is what many Christians are feeling, especially in our Western culture. It appears that what Christianity offers as hope seems pretty empty. Christians, especially those in their theological ivory towers, want to portray a realized kingdom of God but one not yet completed, But the realized kingdom seems to be more pretend than real. And who really knows anything about a completed kingdom? The New Testament tell us that Christ is on his throne in heaven from which he rules heaven and earth. The reality doesn’t portray such a rule. You sense it, too, as your article demonstrates. Perhaps this is why the church is increasingly growing less populated in our culture. People know when they’ve been duped.

    But it also seems that many Christians have a lot invested in their Christian faith, years of commitment, schooling, time, energy, and money. It’s not something you give up on easily. You find yourself defending a Christian world and life view that renown people, past and present, have defended, but in reality seems empty, at least to you. Christians put a lot of stock in prayer. A popular slogan has been, pray as though it all depends on God, but act as though it all depends on you. You increasingly begin to realize only half that slogan is true. And the expensive investment has been all yours. You’ve paid a high price. It’s not easy to give up. And there may still be all those lingering doubts. What if my religion is true?

    But realize, Christianity is just one religion. There are lots of others. And most claim the same infallibility as Christianity does. All claim to be inspired by God as the one true religion. And you and I have come to think of Christianity, our religion, as the one true religion. We think of all the scholarship behind our religion. But all the major religions have similar scholarship. And the adherents of other religions are just as convinced theirs is the one true religion. Their religion speaks the truth like none other. But they all, including Christianity, rely on the supernatural and superstition to make their case for their particular God. Ours is a Triune God. And face it, they are all manmade religions, as is the idea of a Triune God.

    If you want to explore a philosophy that makes much more common sense and accords with reason, look into Deism. It’s not a religion based on supernatural and manmade revelations but rather a philosophy using reason to understand God’s own self revelation, the creation. In a sense that’s the study of natural law as demonstrated in science. And it’s a philosophy that accords with common sense and reason, and affords a reasonable hope. I apologize for the lengthy response, but your article incites such a response in me. I liked your article because it expressed a truth that honest people in our culture are actually feeling. Thanks for sharing your gift.

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