Life is tension.
We feel tugs coming from many directions nearly every hour of the day. Some of these tugs are simple ones such as the tension between the longing to eat a can of Pringles and the desire to stay healthy and fit. Some tensions are a bit more important and have more immediate consequences such as the tension between wanting to read a cell phone message while driving and the desire to stay alive. But there are still other tensions, greater tensions within us that we don’t often discuss and with which we might spend a lifetime battling.
I’m sure if some of the adults I knew as a child were to read the following they might give me a stern look or ask whether I really believe in God at all. But, since they (most likely) aren’t reading this, I will say it. Most of the time my life lies between the belief that God is a powerful and loving creator and the belief that he has abandoned me to the forces of nature and the will of evil men (and beings). And while being suspended in this tension, I often question whether he loves me or whether I am, in the words of Paul, a “vessel of wrath prepared for destruction.” (Romans 9:22).
Now before you get bent out of shape, let me say I don’t need to hear from you about correcting my theology. I understand what the scripture says, and I am not seriously convinced that I am a vessel prepared for destruction. My mind tells me of God’s great love and how he has chosen me to be a co-heir with Christ, but regardless, there are still times when I feel as though he has abandoned me. It is this tension, the tension between knowledge and experience, that runs deep, permeating nearly every moment of every day. It is this tension that I am unable to break on any consistent basis.
There are times when this tug between my heart and my head reminds me of a tug-of-war contest between the Incredible Hulk and Superman with the victor always remaining in question. Some days the Hulk appears to be winning, and other days has Clark Kent revealing his true colors. But just like in the comic book world, (and with those who love it) the debate rages on as to which will win such a battle, for there is no clear winner in the mind of comic book aficionados, and neither is there one with regard to my tension.
This often leaves me wondering where to find hope. I wonder if I am doomed to continual despair, I wonder if I will ever know which side will win, and I also wonder if I am the only person to live in this in-between land. From the outside, it seems that most people put on a happy face and talk about how wonderful God is (and he is), and what great works he has done (which he has done), but they rarely talk about life’s struggles as being important (and maybe they aren’t). But that isn’t everyone. I’ve found hints, small pieces of a puzzle, telling me I am not alone and that there are others who live with the same tension. I would love to say I found a tangible and living person with whom I can frequently sit down and drink a glass of wine, eat some cheese and crackers (or cold pizza!) and know they understand, but to date, such a person is rare. However, when I read Psalm 89 I meet someone who I think understands.
I’ve never met Ethan the Ezrahite in person, but I’ve read his psalm. It is one of the longer psalms in the psalter which really is a very simple four-part prayer. He begins by praising God’s power and steadfast love (89:1-37) but eventually accuses God that he has reneged on his covenant (89:38-45). This leads to the central question of Ethan’s prayer, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (89:46-51). Ethan does not answer that question, a question asked many times throughout the psalter, he merely ends by saying that the Lord should be blessed forever (89:52).
There is no resolution. There is no broken tension. There is merely a single blessing said over the Lord while Ethan waits for an answer. In the midst of his unresolved tension, Ethan simply praises the Lord. That’s it, nothing more. There is no further search for answers, he merely praises God while he lives between the feelings of abandonment and knowledge that God is good.
I hope one day to meet Ethan. I suspect we will exchange very few words, but there will be a knowing look, acknowledging the struggle. Maybe we will hug. Maybe there will be some tears. But regardless of what actually happens, I suspect we will eventually turn toward the Lord and walk forward knowing that we each felt God was always there even in the midst of our sense of abandonment.
We knew he was always there. We knew it and we believed it, yet we did not feel it. We lived our lives in the midst of life’s great tension, but in that moment, finally, we will know we were not alone.