It’s Tuesday night, and I sit in my dorm room alone. My roommates have left, and I have the dorm to myself. It’s like a dream come true.
So I’m sitting on the floor crying.
I tell myself that it’s only five days, and there’s no way that I should be this emotional. But the unalterable fact remains: I miss them. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to their faces (as Professor Higgins would say) or because, like all image bearers, I need community. Either way, I am left with this sense of loss.
Do you know what I think is the saddest story in the Bible?
I’m sure something popped into your mind when I asked that question. Maybe you thought of David, who started out so well and fell so far. Maybe you thought of the death of Jesus. Maybe you thought of the martyrdom of Stephen. All of these are sad, true. But the saddest?
In the book of Malachi, God chastises the Israelites for robbing Him and offering meaningless sacrifices. All in all, a rather standard prophetic message.
At first glance.
It begins, “I (God) have loved you.” I have loved you. I have chosen you, my precious bride, Israel. I have loved you. But then Israel throws it back in God’s face: “How have you loved us?” What have you done for us? Why should we love you in return?
And God says, “I chose you. I loved you more than the other nations. But this is what you have done for Me.”
And God proceeds to list everything that Israel has done to Him. She has lied, she has stolen, she has cheated on Him. She breaks her vows. She breaks His heart. Her gifts are meaningless. She does not love Him.
And God, the faithful Husband, says, “I have loved you. I will love you.” He says, “If you return to Me, I will return to you.” And He leaves them.
God’s last words are, “You don’t love Me.” Then nothing.
For four hundred years, He is silent. The only thing that the children of Israel have is His broken, mournful lament: “You don’t love Me.” And the cryptic promise: “I will send Elijah.” The faithless bride can only remember her Husband’s quiet recognition: “You don’t love Me.”
And for four hundred years, they wait for this ‘Elijah.’
You don’t love Me.
And when Elijah comes, they dismiss him. And when God speaks again, they have given up. And so they do not hear Him. He says,
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.”
The favorable year of the LORD came to them. But they gave up, and so they never saw it.
How sad is that?
Four hundred years is a long time, far longer than the five days I will be without my roommates. I love my friends dearly, and I miss them already. But I would give up my friends for the rest of my life if that was the price I had to pay for my Lord’s presence. The absence of God is a terrible thing, and I do not know if I could survive it.
Four hundred years.
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
In all likelihood, you will not read this until Sunday, when I will be reunited with my roommates. But between now and then, I thank God that I can rest in His presence and voice.
It’s Wednesday morning, and I still miss my roommates.
Let’s go back to Malachi.
God said, “Oh, how I have loved you.” The story of the Old Testament is of a faithless lover, of a Husband who forgives again and again. Of a bride who leaves and returns, a cycle of grief and pain, where even the joys are bittersweet and tainted by the knowledge that she will leave in a heartbeat.
And finally He says, “You do not love Me.” And He gives her one last promise: “If you return to Me, I will return to you.” And for the first time, He turns away.
For whom is it harder? The one who runs away and wounds herself time and time again? Or the One who must let her go?
It is hard to let people go, even for good things. But to let your beloved go to what will poison and scar her beyond recognition?
And she does not return.
So the last book of the Old Testament ends with the faithless lover. It is spectacularly unsatisfying. There is no happy ending. There is only grief.
The New Testament.
At first it appears that God has given up on His people. But He has not. In the book of Revelation, the last book fo the New Testament, they look upon their God, whom they have wounded and pierced through, and they repent.
And He returns to them.
And He is their God, and they are His people, and their names are graven on his hands in clear red lines, in the nail scars that He bore for them.
There is a happy ending.
And they live happily ever after, through eternity.
In the continuing saga of missing people, it is now Wednesday night and I sit in my grandparents’ home.
Where I have received a text from Sarah, who loves me and wants me to have a good vacation. 🙂 Even when we are apart, we still have communication.
Unlike the Israelites.
I know, I’m starting to get repetitive. Deal with it.
God waited. For four hundred years. And His children ignored Him. They did not even try to find Him.
How much must that hurt?
I sit here and I am waiting for the next text, for the next reminder that I am loved. I have only known Sarah for a few months. I love her, though. She is my sister.
God created the Israelites and chose them. But they chose to leave Him, not for something better (because there is nothing better)and not for something that is good in any way. They left Him for a disease and a poison, a gaping wound that they treasured to themselves.
And they ignored Him.
When did they realize He had stopped talking? Only God knows. But they did not return to Him.
So He did not return to them.
I cannot stand aloneness. I’m not sure how they did.
I woke up to the strains of Tenth Avenue North’s ‘Beloved.’ Revelation:
I am Israel.
When I was young, I was excited by God. He filled me with wonder. But at some point, I stopped listening.
And started hurting myself. I stopped listening to Him and did things that brought me no joy and no love. There are wounds on my soul that I cannot heal. I chose to scar myself and hide alone rather than let God heal me.
Because sometimes, healing hurts.
But God waited. And He pursued me. And He caught me. And now He is healing me, and it hurts. And it looks nothing like what I expected.
He loves me, scars and all. I am His bride.
I don’t want to leave again. Am I going to? I’m so weak.
Pray for me.
Peace be upon you.