Pray For Mercy, Prepare For Judgement

December 30, 2004
by James T. Hurd

Luke 23:28-31 – Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills "Cover us!"' For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (NIV)

Words adequate to give expression to the overwhelming sadness, numbing shock, and gnawing grief that grip so many in the face of the tsunami which hit south-eastern Asia on December 26th are impossible to find. We are called, however, to respond, and in formulating our response, we are called to discern God's leading.

One place where we can find help is in the words Jesus spoke on the day we mark as Good Friday. As the Lord of life was being led out to death on a cruel cross, he encounters a group of women of faith, weeping for Him and for what was about to happen. Jesus responds, asking that they weep not for Him but for themselves and their children, and then utters words that many often find difficult to understand: "For the time will come when you will say … to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!'"

He echoes words of the prophet Hosea, who foretold the coming judgement of a just and righteous God against sin.

Hosea 10:8 – The high places of wickedness will be destroyed … Then they will say to the mountains, "Cover us!" and to the hills, "Fall on us!" (NIV)

This, though, is the same Jesus who came to the aid of his disciples when they were in a little boat and in danger from the waves of the surging sea:

Mark 4:37-39 – A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (NIV)

Why on one occasion did Jesus still the storm with such power and grace, and yet on another warn that the fury of God will be unstoppable?

It is not for us to point any fingers or draw any lines of cause and effect to specify whose sin may have provoked such sudden summary judgement, nor is it helpful for us to ask in the face of indescribable suffering, "Why these and not others?" It is, however, both appropriate and helpful for us to take heed that each one of us will be summoned: "Prepare to meet thy God." (Amos 4:12 KJV)

When we cannot find our own words, let us join in singing and praying those of others which have sustained believers in the face of danger:

    Eternal Father, strong to save,
    Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
    Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
    Its own appointed limits keep;
    O hear us when we cry to Thee
    For those in peril on the sea.

    O Christ, Whose voice the waters heard
    And hushed their raging at Thy word,
    Who walked upon the foaming deep,
    And calm amid its rage didst sleep;
    O hear us when we cry to Thee
    For those in peril on the sea.

      – William Whiting, 1860

Likewise, when we grasp the wisdom of Jesus in warning us of the judgement to come, let us sing — and pray — with discerning believers for the day of God to come:

    O quickly come, dread Judge of all,
    For, awful though Thine advent be,
    All shadows from the truth will fall,
    And falsehood die, in sight of Thee:
    O quickly come; for doubt and fear
    Like clouds dissolve when Thou art near.

    O quickly come, true Life of all;
    For death is mighty all around;
    On every home his shadows fall,
    On every heart his mark is found:
    O quickly come; for grief and pain
    Can never cloud Thy glorious reign.

      – Lawrence Tuttiett, 1854

Prayer: O sovereign God, hear our cries. For the grieving, we seek the comfort of Your presence. For the injured, we seek timely and skilful medical care, and Your healing. For those who have lost more than can be comprehended, we seek Your gracious and generous provision. For Christian brothers and sisters seeking to witness faithfully to the God of power and love in the midst of nations and communities in shock and pain, we pray for Your wisdom, strength, and grace. For ourselves, we ask for mercy as we prepare for judgement. All of this we pray in the name of Jesus, our Judge and Saviour. Amen.

About the author:

James T. Hurd <jthurd@sympatico.ca>
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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