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I submit that this is not really a question that seeks the kind of answers found in SAGE reports. It’s a question born of an exasperated, broken spirit, crying for comfort more than control. And if you find yourself asking it, you’re in good company. ‘How long, Lord?’ is a question commonly asked by the Bible’s poets.
Eugene Peterson said that ‘the psalms train us in honest prayer’. To be honest with God requires us to be honest with ourselves, to express our felt feelings and thought thoughts – not just the ‘right’ ones. Prayers don’t have to be neat and tidy. In fact, they’re best when they’re rough and ready, somewhere in the in-between of frustration and faith, lament and longing, confusion and confidence.
Asking ‘how long?’ can be just such a prayer if we let it. That might not make the question go away, but it does allow our perspective to shift. This is what the Psalms reveal. Each poet who voices the question ‘how long?’ also voices a trust that God will definitively act to make all things well in the end: ‘But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation’ (Psalm 13:5).
Julian of Norwich, no stranger to pandemics herself, captured the same sentiment in the fourteenth century: ‘All shall be well. All shall be well in the end, yes. But it is also necessary to add, if it is not well with you today, then it is not yet the end.’ This is a perspective full of faith, of hope, of trust in the goodness and victory of God. A perspective that the psalms reveal, that prayer makes believable. A perspective we, in turn, can offer our neighbour.
England’s new national lockdown will undoubtedly take its toll on our relationships, on our economy, and on our collective mental health. It drives me to ask, ‘how long, Lord?’ But to do so is to put into practice the only sermon application I have ever been able to stick to: when all else fails, pray. It will all be well in the end.
Emerging Leaders Lead, LICC