What are we doing? Why are we here? What’s the point? An old voice that spoke centuries ago to a prophet of another age still speaks: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you” (Jer. 1:5).
Objections leap to consciousness: lives compromised in so many ways, the severely disabled, the diseased, the destitute, the impoverished, the victimized and abused. But this voice is not in the register of an argument or debate. Without solving vexing questions about a good God and a broken world, it says even to those who are hurt and neglected, “I am with you, I am forming you, I am consecrating you, and I know you.” This is not the voice of a forensic victor; it is the victory of hope.
The prophet would recuse himself, saying, “I am too young” (Jer. 1:6). Providential grace, the midwife of being, delivers from the womb, and so God may be trusted from our youth (Ps. 71:5). God is creating and sustaining and redeeming and sanctifying the entire span of human life, and human interactions and communities. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and hope does not disappoint us. Hope impels us into God’s future.
Going with God implies purpose, direction, and work. “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom be like the noonday” (Isa. 58:10). You do not cast out their gloom by your light; rather, compassion and kindness and practical aid lift the pall of gloom cast over all people. Generosity multiplies resources and strength: God guides continually, gives nourishment in parched places, makes bones strong, leads to living water, raises up ruins, and builds new foundations (Isa. 58:11-12).
Anyone walking in the long way of God and doing the work of compassion must often eat and drink the nourishment of memory. The present is insufficient cause for hope. Instead, with ritual exactness the rush of life must be stopped; the soul needs a meal of Sabbath rest and play and quiet and delight. How good and pleasant it is to recall that God forgives iniquity, heals the sick, redeems from the pit, crowns with love and mercy, satisfies with every good (Ps. 103:3-5). In the strength of memory the soul presses on for days and weeks and years.
There are dangers along the way. Memory may ossify and give strength to old grievances. Religion can ruin much. Memory must, therefore, be used in love to interpret the present time and present need. There may be confusion about what work to do and when. Let love guide. Even in religious rest, we would rise to give a domestic animal water to drink. So, there is no day that prohibits simple nourishment and necessary healing (Luke 13:10-17). One day in seven is given to sacred rest, but every day is the Eighth Day. Do not forget the Sabbath. Keep it holy. The week belongs to Christ.
The strands may be woven together. Human life is formed by God the Creator, brought into the world by God the midwife, consecrated for the purpose of service and mercy. And yet human life is shaken and nature groans under a yoke of sin and death. In the new age of the Eighth Day, however, even tribulation may be an occasion to shake off the old and receive “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28). God forms. God guides. God is evermore.