After a shattered year, where is our hope?

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After a shattered year, where is our hope?

January 21, 2021 -

© Gelpi/

© Gelpi/

© Gelpi/

You and I are going to be empathizing with each other for the rest of our lives over the challenges we lived through in 2020. 

Our world is experiencing profound physical, emotional, and spiritual losses due to a global pandemic, polarizing news headlines, and volatile political unrest. 

Even Taylor Swift can’t shake off gloomy feelings! Love her or not, TSwift wrote two terribly sad albums last year that struck a chord with millions sharing her disposition.

As I write, almost four hundred thousand image-bearers of God are dead because of COVID-19, millions are infected, and everyone is being impacted. If not our lives, our livelihoods are at stake. 

Naively, I thought if we could just get to a vaccine rollout, soon enough we could all take a long deep sigh of relief. My downcast soul would buoy to the surface after a near drowning of hope. 

Never would I imagine we would be living post-insurrection of the US Capitol building and a twice-impeached president. But here we are. 

Our old lives are gone, and I haven’t had enough time to come to terms with the catastrophic implications. 

A psalm of hopeful sorrow

Lamenting loss is now a part of my daily time with Jesus because I can’t get through one day without bad news, and no, not just from the media machines. I mean a phone call, email, or text from people I love letting me know how COVID-19 is ruining their lives or killing their loved ones or how polarizing politics is dividing their churches and homes. 

Paradoxically, I’ve been experiencing hopeful renewal when naming my losses and grieving over their impact. What I feared might reveal a lack of faith has helped me entrust my future into Christ’s hands, which has led to spiritual replenishment.

The song of Psalm 42 is devoted to hopeful sorrow and bursting with pain—rip-your-heart-out, tear-your-clothes, lift-your-fist-to-God pain. Squirming through depressing prayers, I found myself shocked and encouraged by the singer’s poem.

Notice the symbolism of water surging through this hopeful lament: 

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so I long for you, God.
I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while all day long people say to me,
“Where is your God? ”
I remember this as I pour out my heart:
how I walked with many,
leading the festive procession to the house of God,
with joyful and thankful shouts.

Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.
I am deeply depressed;
therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan
and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your billows have swept over me.
The Lord will send his faithful love by day;
his song will be with me in the night —
a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God, my rock,

“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about in sorrow
because of the enemy’s oppression? ”
My adversaries taunt me,
as if crushing my bones,
while all day long they say to me,
“Where is your God? ”
Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42, CSB

Crying out to our Savior is not only permissible, it’s an act of worship. 

As our tears fall and our heads hang low, our cries directed to the living God prove our faith: we believe he exists and that reaching out to him will ease our suffering. 

Faith is for the faint of heart. Hope is for depressed souls.

Cracked cisterns all

The prophet Jeremiah used broken-cistern imagery all throughout his prophetic book to illustrate our deep need for God’s flowing streams of Living Water. Many scholars refer to Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet,” and I think his mournful wrestling with God, as well as his troubling occupation to announce terrible punishment, led to his reputation as the prophet whose tears, like the psalmist’s, had likely become his food day and night. 

Disregarding all God’s laws, his people had rebelled and brought upon themselves God’s rebuke. Although God graciously warned and instructed the Israelites regarding how to live, they chose not to follow his ways. Instead, they unrepentantly defied God. 

According to Jeremiah 2:13, God’s accusations against the Israelites were twofold. One, they had “abandoned” God, “the fountain of living water.” And second, they had “dug cisterns for themselves—cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” 

God is the only being able to replenish our needs. He’s the only one who can stabilize us from our dysfunction. He’s the only one powerful enough to sustain our every breath. 

You and I are like cracked cisterns, and so are the systems of the world. 

Emptied to be filled

In chapter 19, God gives Jeremiah a project to buy a clay jar, gather up the leaders of the city, and prophesy their coming judgment. Just another day at the office for Jeremiah. 

At the end of his prophetic word to the people, he was instructed to shatter the jar of clay in their presence and then teach everyone that God had the power to shatter the people and the city in such a way that the broken vessel couldn’t be repaired. 

The imagery would have been most uncomfortable for them. It certainly is for me. I don’t like experiencing the consequences of my sin. 

In a matter of a few paragraphs, Jeremiah summarized how their greatest fear had come true: Jerusalem fell. 

I have to intentionally pause when I read the tragedy. 

A whole people group was overpowered by evil rulers. It feels all too close to home when I consider that their captivity was a result of their own mistakes, mistakes they had been warned about over and over. Their lives had been ruined. God’s people would suffer under tyrants and be displaced from their homes for many years to come. Destined to return to the promised land, the Israelites often found themselves in exile. 

Like the prophet Jeremiah and the Israelites, surviving our harrowing circumstances means lamenting our losses like the psalmist: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your [God’s] waterfalls; all your breakers and your billows have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7). 

Then, as thirsty survivors, we allow the living God to fill us with hope.

Kat Armstrong was born in Houston, Texas, where the humidity ruins her curls. She is a powerful voice in our generation as a sought-after communicator. She is the cofounder of The Polished Network, a nonprofit that gathers working women to connect their faith and work in authentic community. She holds a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of No More Holding Back and The In-Between Place. She and her husband, Aaron, have been married for eighteen years and live in Dallas, Texas, with their son, Caleb, and attend Dallas Bible Church, where Aaron serves as the lead pastor.

More by Kat Armstrong

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