The scene is the Upper Room on the night when He would be betrayed. The timer that God set before the creation of the world was ticking down to its final hours. It was time for the Son of God to atone for the sin of the world and reconcile all things to the Father by giving His life as a ransom for many.
“A little while, and you will see me no longer and again a little while, and you will see me.” ‘So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me,; and ‘because I am going to the Father’? So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by ‘a little while?” We do not know what he is talking about.”
There will come a day when they will go, “Oh yea. Now I get it.” And all the confusion and all the doubt and all the “we don’t know what he is talking about,” explodes in wonder and awe and joy. But until then, they must endure their ‘little while.’
From the Upper Room they will go to the Garden of Gethsemane. While Jesus sweats drops of blood in prayer, they will sleep. High Priests and soldiers led by Judas will invade the Garden and bind Him and take Him into their custody and – they will see Him no longer. But their ‘no longer’ will last only ‘a little while.’ Three days.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our trials and troubles and pain and suffering was over and done with in under 72 hours? It begins on Friday night. It’s all over by daybreak Sunday morning.
If only we knew how long “a little while” lasts – we could endure it, we could manage it. No matter how bad it might be, if you know how long it’s going to last we can be patient and wait. But patience and waiting is hard when you don’t know how long “a little while” lasts.
The Psalmist cries out to God, “HOW LONG, O Lord! Will you forget me forever? HOW LONG will you hide your face from me? HOW LONG must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? HOW LONG will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2). It is as though if only he knew HOW LONG, then he could wait patiently and endure it faithfully.
All of us are faced with our own “little whiles” throughout our life. Luther writes, “Here on earth, Christians experience an ever-recurring alternation of ‘a little while and again a little while.’ Now it is dark night; soon it is day again. Therefore the lamenting does not have to last forever, even though it seems and feels that way when we are in it.”
There has been a movement afoot in the church for quite some time that has tried to deny these ‘little whiles’ of pain and suffering and despair that we believers experience from time to time. It’s movement that has been around at least since the days of Job. It says something to the effect that if you were a ‘real believer’ and if you had ‘real faith,’ then you wouldn’t experience these ‘little whiles’ of suffering and grief and depression.
If you were a ‘real Christian,’ you would know that Jesus has given you an “abundant life,” a life of VICTORY that is filled with JOY and that He has taken away all of your sins and so you should “rejoice in the Lord always” and that ‘ALWAYS’ doesn’t leave any room for ‘little whiles’ of doubt and fear and feeling as though God has forgotten you.
Even if you feel deep sorrow or sadness or experience real suffering and pain, there should always be this ‘river of joy’ that runs even deeper. Even if you do happen to go through dark times in your life now and then, at least just be willing to say that you’re experiencing some deep, inner joy or peace, or that you’re ‘growing in your faith’ through it all.
And certainly, it is true that God has His ways of comforting us in our ‘little whiles’ of sadness and despair. And God has His ways of turning our ‘little whiles’ of sorrow into joy, and ‘dark night’ of despair into pleasure. But the truth is, its just as true that sometimes these ‘little whiles’ are completely void of any sense of joy or emotional relief or even purpose.
There are times of suffering and pain and emotional despair that make no sense and have no reason to pin them to or blame them on. Nothing to which we can say, “here’s why this is happening” or “I know what I’ve done to deserve this.”
The truth is, there is also such a thing as ‘undeserved suffering’ where the innocent suffer simply because we live in a fallen world and others sin and we get caught in the crossfire and a ‘dark night of the soul’ descends on us. As we just sang, “In Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man…”
So, rather than denying these ‘little whiles’ that we all experience, the Bible recognizes them and even makes time for them just as Jesus does with His disciples in the Upper Room. “Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful…”
Nowhere does He say that they shouldn’t weep and lament or be sorrowful or that there’s something wrong with their faith if they do. By their own weeping, lamentation and sorrow they will be entering into His own ‘little while’ even as He enters into theirs through His sorrow and suffering and despair.
Nor does He tell them that if they were really His disciples, they should be able to identify some ‘inner joy’ or meaning and purpose in it all. That’s for “the world.”
But what He does say is that THINGS WILL TURN AROUND. It will not always be like this. “But your sorrow will turn into joy.” He uses the example of a woman in labor. “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also your hearts WILL rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
So, rather than denying that there is such a thing as a ‘dark night of the soul’ for the believer, our Lord promises that we most certainly will have our ‘little whiles’ of weeping and lamentation and sorrow. Rather than denying them, and rather than trying to comfort one another by trying to talk them out of it, He teaches them that there is a ‘hope’ for better days that is worth waiting for.
Waiting and hope go together in a way that only God can put the two together.
The Psalmist in his ‘little while’ prays his ‘de profundis.’ “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice… I WAIT FOR THE LORD, my soul WAITS, and in His word I hope; my soul WAITS for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (Ps. 130).
Sometimes this time of ‘waiting’ for the joy to come is ACTIVE. There are things that we can do and the activity helps to pass the time and take our minds off of the pain and sorrow. But sometimes the ‘waiting’ is entirely passive where the only ‘activity’ that we can muster is to ‘pray.’ And sometimes we can’t even muster ourselves to do that except to ‘complain.’
And if you pay attention, you’ll notice how many Psalms are what are called “complaint psalms.” “HOW LONG, O Lord! Will you forget me forever? HOW LONG will you hide your face from me? HOW LONG must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
As our Lord is pinned to the cross, even He let’s His prayer be heard, praying complaint Psalm 22 – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46).
In the Bible, complaining to the only One who can finally rescue you IS AN ACT OF HOPE THAT IS BORN OF FAITH. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, these ‘complaint psalms’ tell us that we are not supposed to be content with suffering, as if there were something good it – or that there is something wrong the person who is experiencing her ‘dark night of the soul.’ It’s the suffering that’s wrong, not us because we suffer.
There are ‘little whiles’ in which there is nothing we can do to make things better and all you can do is to ‘WAIT,’ HOPING that God will speed the time until your ‘little while’ is over. But in your WAITING IN HOPE, you honor God and share in the suffering of your Lord even as He shares in yours.
Listen again to Luther. “But even though we cannot see or determine the end, Christ has already done so. He points out to us in advance that we must bear this suffering, not matter how bad and unpleasant the devil makes it. Even though we do not see the end, we must wait for Him who says, “I will put an end to it and will again comfort you and give you joy.” (LW 24:382).
To His disciples, Jesus says, “So also you will have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you.”
We will not always have solutions to our problems or be able to control the duration of our ‘little whiles.’ But we will always have a reason to ‘WAIT’ because we will always have a reason to ‘HOPE.’ “And hope does not disappoint.”
No matter how little we understand the meaning of our suffering or ‘why’ this ‘little while’ has come upon us, we know that it our story with a happy ending. Which is not meant to make us feel better in our ‘little while’ of darkness. It is simply the truth that Jesus secured on the 3rd day.
Waiting and hope go together because God has put them together on Easter.
St. John sees the end of our ‘little whiles’ and the reward for our waiting in hope that Jesus has promised and attained by His ‘little while’ on the cross.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)