[Note about my poor tiny podcast whose link I broke yesterday, here it is again. Now back to regularly scheduled blogging.]
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world. – 1 Samuel 2:8
Hannah’s Prayer, a very clever person observed yesterday, is really perfect for our time. It’s so easy to look at the endless cycle of news and trouble and conclude that God is tired, or busy, or worrying about something else. It’s up to us, maybe, to sort things out and make the world ok. But how can we? What could a single person possibly do? Hannah’s Prayer is a great, thrilling comfort to the downcast and discouraged.
The point at which she prays her prayer the religious system is a corrupted wreck. Eli’s sons are compromising the worship of the Lord, cheating the people, and generally ruining everything. Eli sits by helplessly, gluttonous and sanguine, ready to reprove not the wicked, his sons perhaps, but the true worshipper, Hannah.
I’ve always liked Hannah. She’s an easy lady to get along with as you’re reading through the bible. Her life, like most of ours, is a mixed bag. On one hand her husband really loves her. On the other hand, there’s her co-wife. The affection and love of her husband isn’t ever quite enough, much to his consternation, to overwhelm the bitterness of her spirit about not having a child and having to endure Peninnah’s exaltation. This happens to me all the time–minus the co-wife. I have it really good, but I am more than willing to let the bitterness of whatever it might be tip the balance between joy and grief so that I always land on the side of grief.
But praise the Lord. When Hannah goes to pray–because that’s never a bad thing to do–both God and Eli tell her to suck it up buttercup because you know how few women have husbands that really love them and you don’t need a child you can just turn that frown upside down…oh wait, that’s not what happens.
For true. When you have something in your life that is overwhelming you, even if you feel like it shouldn’t be, even if it should be out weighed by all the good, it’s something you should pray about. And it’s good to pray with a full measure–pressed down, shaken together, running over–of desperation. You stand there, wherever you are, or sit there, or lie buried in your bed, and you beg God for what you want.
I’m going to go all holy for a minute and admit that the thing that’s really been bothering me is that every week, somewhere in the world, there’s a mass killing. And the more killings there are, the more impotent, corrupt, and foolish the powers and principalities that are supposedly on the side of democracy and freedom look and become. I stand in the shower, railing at God, as helpless as Hannah. She couldn’t produce life. I can’t produce goodness. That’s where we all are, helpless.
But here’s the thing, even though Eli–the perfect decadent modern man–told her off for being drunk, so clueless was he that he couldn’t distinguish between devotion and debauchery, God is not so hapless and helpless. God heard, and saw, and answered her prayer.
And here is where her prayer, like Mary’s, is so necessary for our age. Because when God answered her prayer, he didn’t fix everything up ship shape in the near term. In fact, very shortly after Hannah praises God for his sovereign righting of all wrongs everywhere, Israel is plunged into war, Eli and his sons die, the Ark is captured by the Philistines, and a baby is born whose name gets to be “the glory of the Lord has departed from Israel”. If you didn’t know better, you’d think things got worse instead of better.
I mention Mary because the pattern in I Samuel is a foretaste of what’s on the dock for Jesus. God is going to judge the wicked! It’s going to be so great! Except that Israel is The Wicked. And before coming in glory with a sword, God absorbs all that wickedness in himself and dies. Mary stands there at the cross, heartbroken, gazing up at glory of the Lord, broken, bleeding. It’s as unexpected as the Ark of God coming back laden with tumors and mice, fashioned out of gold, the place of God’s presence bearing the ugliness and sin of the world.
But the near term isn’t all there is. It’s the long game, eternity even, that matters. So we keep praying, crying out, keeping our eyes fixed on the One who owns the pillars of the world. If other people mistake you in your desperate prayer for being unhinged, crazy, helpless, well, don’t worry about them. God is the one who matters and he is never mistaken. And in the end he wins.