I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.Psalm 27:13-14 NIV
I wrote the intro to this week before I started the series, which is funny because I allude to Ash Wednesday. I had planned to finish this series long before the holiday but work came up and I wasn’t able to. Now that we’re in the season of lent, I find it funny my thoughts were so focused on the season. Perhaps God is moving even here.
I was reading a devotion on patience when I came across verse 13. Something stopped me. There’s a song by Housefires called Rise in which they sing “I’ll see your goodness in the land of the living” over and over again. The depressed mind does strange things with language. I love this song. Every time I have sang it, I thought “the land of the living” was in reference to heaven – the land where all things live again. Where all things live in harmony. Suddenly, reading it in a different context, in a devotional about waiting for something while I’m still alive, I realized the land of the living is the land I’m in – the land of the literal living, the breathing, the wine drinking, the brief bit of life lived not in ash. This land.
Always, Rise was such a hopeful song for me. This body, this mind, this existence, is just for a moment. All the pain and suffering is eclipsed by the coming glory. How much more hopeful is it, though, when you can hope that even in the midst of all of this turmoil and agony, we can still have hope that God will do a good thing?
As I’ve walked through this series, I’ve been moved into this direction of juxtaposition: Bravery that looks like fear, fear that looks like hope, and belief that sounds like unbelief. There isn’t implicit juxtaposition in this verse, but I believe in the larger context, and hidden under the weight of waiting, we might find something unexpected.
A couple weeks ago, as I was revisiting my notes for what I had planned to say this week, I read my morning devotional which walked through Hebrews 11. Picture me, working on a devotional about hope, believing that I’ll see some type of goodness in this barren wilderness. Picture me writing a $500 check to the gas company to fill my house with heat in the middle of -35 degree blizzard, paying a $300 security deposit, sending hundreds of dollars to the government in taxes, facing increased rent as a roommate moves out and no one is stepping up to fill her place despite our best efforts, all while I try to figure out how to buy plane tickets and take time off work for my friends wedding and bachelorette party. The mantra I keep repeating is that there will still be goodness in the land of the living and I will bear witness to it. Hopeful peace that defies logic.
Then the reality sets in.
Hebrews 11:13 is introduced in recapping events of the Old Testament. Abraham and Sarah are promised to be the parents of generations but suffer from infertility and get too old to have kids. They’re promised a nice land of milk and honey but die before they get to see it. Their ancestors settle in the land and become so numerous they outnumber the stars. Nice, right? Kind of.
Verse 13 hits us with this nice little bluntness: All these people (such as Abraham and Sarah) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised.
In case you missed it, the point of Hebrews 11:13 is: Stay faithful your whole life and then die before you get to see the goodness God’s been dangling in front of you, the goodness promised to you.
How do you make sense of this? How do you reconcile the confidence of seeing the goodness of God with seeing the track record of God’s faithlessness in the past. Well, you’ve got to keep reading.
Hebrews 11:13 continues, “They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” If you’ve read my second book, you’ll know about my tattoo that reads, in Norwegian, “but I catch a glimpse.” What if the good thing isn’t the thing we think it is. What if the good thing is the glimpse of the good thing coming?
In his liturgy for dating or courtship, Douglas Kaine McKelvey writes “Give me patience and an eternal perspective that would govern well my choices today, and in all the days that follow.” The juxtaposition in the land of the living is repositioning yourself in time, living both in the present and the future. To believe that the goodness is coming now and also not coming until later. The goodness is the promise God gives to us and also the goodness is that God is here with us at all. Of course, it’s possible that the promise will be fulfilled, but Hebrews reminds us that there is still goodness, even if the promised land is never reached.
As you revisit your fears from week one, I want you to think about if they’ve changed. Has nuclear war entered the list? Has a previous fear abated? As the list grows in front of your mind’s eye, what do you make of the declaration that you will see goodness in the land of the living? Sometimes, confidence in the face of fear isn’t enough. We still have our habits based in fear. We can be confident in our voices and not confident in our actions. We can be too scared to trust completely.
As we end our journey through Sure, go in peace knowing that you will see goodness in this life, expected or unexpected. When we wait on the Lord, taking our time walking on the path laid out for us, despite all the evidence to the contrary, all of the wars and the disappointments and the liars, there will still be goodness to be seen in the land of the living. It is already a miracle to be here and I believe that more miracles are on the way for us. I’m not sure how it’s possible knowing all we do about the world. Somehow, the confidence remains.
Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).
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