Compassion in calamity and chaos.
Sometimes, I have no idea what’s going on. I don’t pretend to have any or all of the answers. Oftentimes, the torrent of life just seems too overwhelming to endure, too manic to manage, too chaotic to control. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m Frodo Baggins clinging to the last edge of the precipice of the Crack of Doom. As I look around me and debate whether to let go or not, the mayhem just seems deluge all rational thought and logical comprehension. The recurring doubts and constant temptations and debilitating struggles prove too exhausting and too arduous, shattering what was left of hope and life.
As I cling to what’s left of rock and earth, the allure of the broad gate and the easy way (Mt 7:13) seduces the once honest dreams of my heart. The hard way is just too literal (Mt 7:14), full of primeval and visceral egos that deem they have a monopoly on truth. The road to the narrow gate proves to be taxing and vexing beyond logical stress levels. The former drive of seeing souls be transformed by grace has become clouded under arbitrary disagreements and trivial disputes. The young visions of change and reformation now seem as nothing but youthful naïveté and have given way to timeworn cynicism and pragmatism.
But there I am, still clinging, still holding on — not really knowing why, but nonetheless cleaving to the notion that, perhaps, if I were to pull myself up this deluge of soul, this Crack of Doom wouldn’t overtake me. That if I’m able to just strain one last time, I might just make it, and free myself from this Vale of Despond that has so enslaved and enraptured this once well-meaning, goodhearted soul. And it’s in this bedlam and pandemonium of heart and thought that the loyal, stouthearted Samwise Gamgee breaks through the confusion and cries out, “Don’t you let go!” Don’t let go . . . just reach. And equally urgent does Jesus’s cry disrupt the deafness of my sin to declare, “Take My hand! Don’t you let go! . . . ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ (Mk 6:50) Reach!”
By reaching we find the hand of grace waiting for us. The grip of mercy lingers patiently, steadfastly, faithfully, for the dire cry of God’s desperate children. And by reaching, it’s not we who pull ourselves up, it’s Jesus that raises us up and causes us to stand on solid ground, on the firm foundation of what he’s done, what he’s finished. And now that we’re standing on the Rock, we’re made to sing!
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure . . . In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape: incline thine ear unto me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress . . . For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust. (Pss 40:2; 71:1–3, 5)
The consolation in all this commotion remains ever the same: the unflinching, unremitting, unrelenting grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus’s immutable and illimitable mercy is the only solace and support for the travails of life. He alone relieves and reprieves the weary soul, the exhausted straggler, the tired fugitive. The hand of grace reaches down and raises the desperate and destitute from the cavern of despair, putting a new song upon their lips, “a song of praise to our God.” (Ps 40:3) It’s then that we’re made to see, then that we know that these doldrums were divinely-sent. That the hard way of the wilderness is often the sovereign way of grace. That you’re holding on was due to his clinging to you. The definitive “Don’t you let go!” has been pronounced in the Savior’s cry, “It is finished.”
Our incredible turmoil is met with God’s indelible love. Our ruthless confusion then collides with his relentless compassion. Then we’re shown that it’s Jesus who perfectly and perpetually meets our failure with his faithfulness, our grief with his grace, our mess with his mercy. It’s the march through the wasteland that’s meant to give us a renewed thirst and craving for the succoring grace of our Heavenly Father. It’s the Lord himself who, as Octavius Winslow exclaims, “brings us into the very heart of the wilderness, just to prove to us how easily and how readily he can provide a table for us even there. And when all other resources are exhausted, and all supply is cut off, and every spring of water is dried, lo! He opens the eye of our faith to see what his heart of love has prepared.”
Reader, struggler — don’t you let go! Reach up in faith and you’ll be gripped by grace! Take the sovereign hand of the Savior, “for he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. They they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Ps 107:25–31)
Rest not in the seductions of this world. Find no solace in the attractions and persuasions of the easy way. Don’t be beguiled by the God of this world, by the prince of darkness. But trust forever in Jesus’s compassion amidst calamity. For, “there shall be no rest to my bones or to thine, unless we hear the word of grace, and cleave unto it steadfastly and faithfully.”1 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (or unswervingly), for he who promised is faithful.” (Heb 10:23) Hold fast to grace. Trust in hope. Jesus is there and he is waiting. Take heart, take his hand. Don’t you let go!
Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English, & Co., 1860), 150.