As a boy we sang, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. . .” That seemed impossible to sing today, as so many of us are struggling, hurting. I thought especially of our folk in our hospitals giving medical care to the suffering. They are weary already, though in places like Houston the problems are just beginning. If we are to mourn with those who mourn, then today does not seem like a rejoicing sort of day.
There is a temptation to think that even though this day seems dreadful, we should just change our confession and wish the world into a different state. If we sing very loudly, with sincerity, that today is God’s day, then won’t God hear us and make everything great?
Avoid Magical Thinking
This may be a great way to end Peter Pan: if we all believe and clap our hands Tinkerbell will not die. Magical thinking is bad theology. God is God. He loves His children too much to let us manipulate Him. God is not sitting in His holy heaven waiting for us to give just the right amount to a ministry or some other trick. We must avoid magical thinking. God is a person, not a force that can be used with the right spells .
He is not waiting for us to ask using some Christian incantation. Words count, but the good God is waiting for any sign that the prodigal is coming home. He will see us from a long way off and come running to us. He is not moved by our “right words,” but by a heart turned toward Him, giving us more than we deserve, because He loves us. God gives us what we need to live happily for eternity, our heart’s true needs, not necessarily what we would ask. In the story of the lost son, Jesus tells of a young man who squandered everything his dad gave him. When the son headed home, he merely wished to be a servant. He did not get his wish, but something much greater!
God is all-powerful, so we cannot force Him to do anything. He is sovereign and good and He will give us our heart’s desire if it is best. In our broken world, where so many events trigger other events, we cannot possibly know what is best. God does. Prayer is good for us and He delights to let us participate in His divine plan, but there is no magical formula, no set of right words, that can force God to do as we demand.
He does not need anything, so he cannot be bought off. Scripture and history show God answering all kinds of prayer. Told he need only “believe,” one man said that he believed and then asked Jesus to help his unbelief!
Magical thinking is out: suffering is real and we cannot speak it out of existence. How can this be the day the Lord has made?
Physical and Metaphysical Reality
Context helps us understand. Psalm 118 begins with the Psalmist admitting he is in trouble, but when he cried to the Lord, the Lord heard him and delivered him. Sometimes such a deliverance is literal: God defeats some physical enemy. What if this does not happen? The poet points to a deeper, a metaphysical reality. The Day of the Lord is coming when:
22The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
23This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.
26Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD.
27God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.
28Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.
29O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Physical reality is not yet in tune with metaphysical reality, yet God exists. He can bring us to a greater place than this present moment in the merely physical cosmos. There is another, higher world where perfect justice is the rule. God will bring the physical and the metaphysical into alignment. We can acknowledge the pains and sorrows of today, even mourn, but also rejoice that there is a Temple. The house of the Lord runs on God-time where the resolution of all human suffering is done. The only day there is an eternal Day of the Lord: paradisaical, joyful, reality.
The person who knows both worlds can take joy even in hard times without denying the times are hard! We are in the world, but not of it!
In the person of Jesus the “stone which the builders refuse is become the head stone of the corner.” He is the temple if torn down on a bloody Good Friday will be rebuilt on Easter Day. Jesus is alive and the promise of a total resolution of the tensions between what is and what ought to be. He returned to the eternal Day where He prepares to make all things new.