Thursday, September 24, 2015

God is Always with Us

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?  And how do you see it now?  Does it not seem like nothing in your eyes? …And take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work!  For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts.  This is the pact that I made with you when you came out of Egypt, and my spirit continues in your midst; do not fear!  (Haggai 2:3, 4b)

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

Almost exactly a year after Hurricane Katrina struck, I had occasion to travel to New Orleans for work.  I had some spare time while I was there, so I went on a 3- or 4-hour Hurricane Katrina bus tour.   The city itself had been hit hard enough, but what I remember most vividly was the devastation in St. Bernard Parish.  Not a sign of life as far as the eye could see in many areas.  Entire shopping malls knocked off their foundations, gas stations rendered useless, mile upon mile of empty, uninhabitable ruins where homes once stood.  The only visible signs of life were a Home Depot selling building supplies and a laundromat hastily erected for the oil workers who were so badly needed to keep the refinery there going.  As I looked out the window of the bus, I remember thinking, “Who will ever come back here?  There’s nothing to come back to.  Nowhere to live.  Nowhere to worship. No schools for the children.  No stores for purchasing necessities like groceries.  And yet, if no brave souls venture forth, St. Bernard Parish will always be a wasteland.”  It was destruction on a scale so unimaginable and overwhelming, I could hardly talk the rest of the day.

This must have been what the remnant of Jews returning from exile in Babylon experienced when they were liberated by the Persians and told they could go back and resettle Jerusalem.  They’d been away for 40-50 years.  Weeds had grown up.  Marauders had taken anything left behind.  Their homes and their beloved Temple had been lying in ruins for decades, laid waste by a conquering army.  A whole generation had grown up who’d never seen Jerusalem or the Temple, whose only home ever had been Babylon and, truth be told, they didn’t have much interest in pulling up stakes and moving back to the Holy City.  It didn’t look very holy anymore.  Rebuilding was going to be a monumental undertaking.  They did begin to reconstruct the Temple, but enthusiasm for the project waned and years went by without any progress.

About 14 or 15 years later, the new Persian King, Darius, ordered the Jews to finish rebuilding their temple. They did, but they knew it was nowhere near as resplendent as the former Temple had been.  Nothing was as good as it had been.  They were discouraged and wondered if God even remembered them or was even present in the midst of their suffering.

The prophet Haggai reminded them and all of us that God is always with us.  God was with them in exile.  God was with them as they attempted to rebuild amidst the ruins.  God was with his children as the fury of Katrina raged.  Even when we’re talking about devastation closer to home – the loss of your job, a best friend’s betrayal, the break-up of your marriage, the death of a loved one – God is always reminding us, “I am here with you.  Don’t despair.  Keep living.  Keep going.  No matter what, I am here with you and I love you.”

When have you been tossed about by life’s storms and knocked off your moorings?  Where did you feel God’s presence as you sought to regain your footing and go on?  Give thanks to the Lord for God’s enduring presence.

No comments: