“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:25-27)
The lonely hours of bedtime, when the desolation of the lives we had built and lost presses down on us, are sometimes hard to bear. If one has endured these hours over the course of months and years, one can achieve something like a resignation, which dulls the pain that once was sharp and dries the tears that once flowed more freely. As time passes, the righteous indignation gives way to a seed of humility. The threads of choices and responsibilities, actions and reactions, are not easily untangled. Choices made in innocence can still be far from wise, and actions follow reactions down the corridors of the years, the flow of human freedom channeling rivers whose force leads us down through a countryside we had no intention of ever visiting. And in these quiet and solitary hours of nighttime in the far country, we feel the locust plague.
The ingenuity of God is rooted in his infinite love. Though he will love us deeply enough to let us end our lives crucified on a bare Judean rock, he will love us fiercely enough and with boundless creativity so that we are crucified next to the One who can promise “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” There is no getting around this. God’s love is never exhausted, and all our efforts to wreck our lives cannot surpass his craftiness. He is a wily Lover who will pursue us and woo our hearts down to our final breath.
We do not see this in the midst of his discipline. Despite ample illustrations in our recent memory of his deliverance, he will still allow us to wet our toes on the seashore with death breathing down our necks, before he splits the ocean wide that we may dance and sing across his pathways. If we will in our lack of courage and inertia find ourselves lagging, his angels’ hands will pull us from our folly lest the fire rain down on us. We will see it as painful and as his judgment. Until the light of destruction’s fires reveal to us his mercy. Sometimes he has to knock us from our horse and blind us so he can get us to where we should be going and where we may finally see things right.
His timetable is not ours. Which is why the endurance of many lonely bedtimes can devour hope. It is hard to remember that God is a God of surprises. Old women bear babies. Armies run away in the middle of the night. A virgin teenage girl bears the Living God in her womb. Nothing is impossible with God. And reversal is his specialty. The mighty are cast down. The lowly lifted up. The poor shall eat and be satisfied, but the rich are sent empty away. Dreams die. Hope fades. Faith is almost gone. The gaze out the window is replaced by the shrug of bent shoulders. And the next thing one knows, hysterical women are speaking of an open tomb. That stands empty.