It’s dark. I have been up for hours but the sun still shows no sign of rising. If my calendar didn’t inform me that these are the longest nights of the year and my globe didn’t show me that my place on the planet is temporarily tipped far away from the sun, I might begin to despair.
Will the light ever dawn again?
The Israelites found themselves asking a similar question. It had been a long time since they had seen the light of God’s presence among them, and they despaired of it ever returning. Once upon a time they had lived in their own land, victorious over their enemies, successful in their endeavors, and happy in their community. The symbol and source of their blessed life was the temple, the place where they had seen the radiant cloud of God’s Spirit alight among them.
Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD … Then the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them.
Ezekiel 10:4, 18-19
But all of that was long gone. Wave after wave of calamity had come along, stripping their land, destroying their homes, starving their children, wiping out their elderly, raping their women, and carrying off their survivors in chains. Devastated. Distressed. Their lives were a ruin. Their temple was rubble. It had been violated and desecrated beyond belief, and the light of God’s presence had departed from it. Without that light, they had no hope. Would it ever return?
The night in our soul can last so long that we despair of ever seeing light again.
God kept sending messages of hope, but their ongoing reality was anything but the radiant dawn that the prophets had foretold. After generations of living as refugees and exiles, they began to hobble back to their homeland. But the wasteland that met their eyes was nothing like the dreamland of their memories. Weak. Discouraged. They began the painstaking process of restoration. Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple. Nehemiah worked on the wall. Ezra re-established the priesthood. But God’s glory-cloud never showed up. They were plodding along by faith, laboring against overwhelming odds to bring back all that had been lost, to restore their lives to what they were supposed to be. Ready. Waiting. Surely any day now the trumpet would sound and the Lord would descend as He had before. Nothing happened.
“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire … he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver… and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Generation after generation came and went, and if anything, things only got worse. Tyrannical local rulers. Oppressive foreign invaders. Corrupt, mafia-run priests. Degrading practices throughout the land. Abominable idols in the temple. Where was the promised Messiah who would clean up all this mess? Where was that righteous King who would establish justice and peace for all time? Many quit on any hope of change, but the faithful persevered in waiting. Deep darkness covered their world, but they strained their eyes watching for the dawn. How long could they go on believing without seeing? The Old Testament closes its final book in a mess, with 600 years of hope unfulfilled and the light of God still missing.
The night in our soul can last so long that we despair of ever seeing light again. We can barely remember what it was like when we felt happy, connected to our community, and right with the world around us. We slog along, day after day, dutifully doing what we are supposed to do but not seeing any change. We cry out to God in laments and prayers, begging Him to return and restore us, but He isn’t responding.
Will the light ever dawn again?
But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.