Psalm 13 has that question in it: ‘How long, O Lord?’ We don’t know when many of the Psalms were written, but we can figure out some of them, and so this Psalm was probably written during the exile in Babylon. The psalmist asks God if He (God) will forget him (the psalmist) forever. And it is an interesting question. The psalmist is no longer living in the Promised Land. He is in Babylon, along with his social bubble (everyone else from Judea) and he wonders when this will end.
I was at the gym this morning (Thursday) thinking about this. Our gym in Barton opened on Monday – we are restricted to 4 people in the pool and 6 in the gym, and we don’t have to wear face coverings (think about swimming with a cloth mask for a moment…..) We also have to book in advance – one of the features of the new normal. As I was thinking about writing this it occurred to me that I have a tendency to look at how long it will be before something ends: I had set the Cross-Trainer for 25 minutes, and as it went up to 6 minutes I was thinking ’19 minutes to go’, and so on, until I held on for the final 30 seconds and the end was in sight. I do the same when I’m reading a book. I put the book mark in and see how close to the middle I am, then when I have 205 pages to go I think, ‘If I read 6 pages I’ll only have 199 pages till the end!’ I have even sometimes set a countdown Calendar on my phone for some events (141 days till Christmas, if you were wondering (as of Thursday 6th August). Maybe that isn’t normal – or maybe it is, but back to the psalmist:
He should have known the answer to the question if he was in Babylon. We know the answer. He must have had access to Jeremiah’s writings and Jeremiah said that the exile would last for 70 years. And you find in the book of Daniel that Daniel read Jeremiah and he started his own countdown calendar until the end of the exile (I mention this to give myself biblical justification for counting down!)
But for us the question is not yet answered: How long, O Lord? How long until we can go out again, as before, without fear of infection? How long until we can actually say that this pandemic is over? How long until…? (fill in the blank with your own question).
We don’t have an answer, but we can continue through the psalm:
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
The psalmist didn’t know the answer – although it was there for him to read (this is why we have Bibles!) – but he knew God well enough to trust him.
And that is where we are. We know, from the Bible, that God is going to sort out all the troubles in the world; we know He provides healing and salvation in the here and now. We may not know when it will be sorted, but we can look back on his goodness to us in the past, trust him in the present and hope in him for the future.