Rebuilding the Temple
The Books of Ezra and Haggai, in the Old Testament, speak of the return of the people from exile in Babylon to their ancestral homeland of Jerusalem. The previous generations had been swept away, taken prisoner by the Babylonians, and carried away to a strange city. Over time, God works to soften the hearts of the enemies of Israel. A new king rises to power, Cyrus of the Persians. Cyrus is inspired to let the people of Israel return to their homeland and rebuild their temple that was destroyed some 70 years prior. With great excitement the people of Israel begin their joyous work. Things will now be better. Restoration will come.
Their work doesn’t last long, however, as a new king, Artaxerxes, takes the throne and dismantles their work force. He does not want the temple rebuilt and so the work ceases. Just when they thought they would get back to that place where things were so good, the plan is derailed and the dreams of the people are snuffed out.
But hope returns. Darius takes the place of Artaxerxes on the throne and, like his father Cyrus, he is inclined to let the people of Israel construct their beloved temple. It will take many years of hard work and a few more interruptions but the new way is indicated and the temple’s progress is now certain.
Rebuilding takes time and usually gets interrupted before the work is completed. In a way we are all in the midst of some sort of rebuilding. We have experienced some glory, had times when all seemed right and good with the world. And then there was something that took that sense of peace and well-being away. Good things don’t last. They fade away like everything else in this life. Then, after a period of grieving, something new emerges. We get a new sense of encouragement. A new opportunity presents itself. Or we learn to accept our losses and find a brand new strength within. We move on in a positive way.
And then we hit a wall. The progress stops. We are plunged back into despair. We thought we were over the pain but it comes back in an unexpected wave. Our step forward now becomes two steps backward. Those who lose loved ones go through an extended period of grieving when things are pretty dark. After a period of time light returns. Finally, they think, they can move on. The pain has gone and it feels so good not to hurt so much. But one day a wave of darkness pops back up. The new pain is worse than the old one. We thought we had moved on but, no, we’re hit again with unspeakable grief.
Healing is not linear. We expect, when we are making progress, that each day should be a little better, that our steps should logically build over time to an accumulated distance. As long as we see a little progress each day, we feel encouraged. A sense of patience develops and we sense that, if we endure, all will be well. And then, boom, something comes over us and it feels like we have to start all over again. The rug is pulled out from beneath our feet and down we go.
Addicts universally speak of relapses. Those going through physical rehab after surgery know of the great sense of encouragement, then the depressing days when the pain suddenly feels worse than ever. Struggling people who undergo emotional therapy find new tools to meet their challenges but, after some time of feeling strongly equipped, a new emotional wall is presented and they are discouraged beyond measure. We return to the church after a long absence, feel so good, and then get to the place where we again question the value of our new commitment. In various ways we are taken into exile, released and begin to rebuild, then are defeated once again. We thought it was over but it isn’t.
Rebuilding takes time and it comes in spurts. It is more something that takes place in us and through us than it is something we have within our control. Progress is made, lost, then made again. Hope waxes, wanes, waxes yet again. Life is hard. But God won’t let go of us. The spiritual path is not linear exactly but, over time, progress is made. We look back and see a trajectory with purpose. The ferocity of the various enemies is eventually beaten by a higher power. Grace itself is bigger than struggle, even uses struggle to hone itself in our lives.
If you’ve taken another hit, wait for the next sense of hope and let it carry you when it comes. All things are being rebuilt through Jesus Christ.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.