This Too Shall Pass
I'm writing this reluctantly, and probably even under protest. It's not to meet some deadline for an editor, but I simply don't want to write these words. I don't want these words to change me. You know when you get yourself in an argument with someone and you know they are right and you lost the war, but you can't let them know it yet, so you keep pushing a bit? I'm throwing the equivalent of a toddler tantrum. I think I want to sit in disbelief, lack of faith, and fear. Maybe the fear is that even that as I write these words, I will begin to believe them myself, and I don't want that right now.
You see, on this day, St. Patrick's Day, our world is facing the biggest pandemic of our lifetime, or at least my lifetime. I see the memes and hear the stats and think that humanity has survived worse. "Historically, we have made it through." It is this type of self-talk that I would use when I stood in line in total fear waiting for Space Mountain at Disneyland. I would see other people "make it through" and used this rationale, their survival, as my cue that all was going to be OK. But I still didn't want to have to go through the ride. And let's be honest, roller coasters are fun, and right now, life isn't.
There has been this phrase that has journeyed with me in a couple of rough patches in life and it seems like we are taking another lap. The story of how this phrase came about is certainly a legend, but I love it none the less. It goes something like this.
"The wisest of the kings in Israel, Solomon, decided one day to challenge one of his ministers, Benaiah. The king instructed him to search for a ring that could turn a happy man sad, and a sad man happy. King Solomon doubted the minister would be able to find such an impossible thing. Still, the intrepid minister set out. Benaiah traveled the kingdom high and low, but to no avail. Returning to Jerusalem, he found himself in a shabby neighborhood where there was a market. He noticed a man selling some odd pieces of jewelry spread out on a threadbare rug. Desperate, the minister explained to the merchant what he was seeking – a ring that could “make a happy man sad, and a sad man happy.” The merchant smiled, and handed him a ring with the inscription: “This too shall pass." Gam zeh ya’avor. (גם זה יעבור) Benaiah returned to King Solomon and presented him with the ring. Smiling at the thought of winning the challenge, King Solomon took one look at the ring and was immediately humbled."
The history of this tale and how it traveled across the globe is still a mystery shrouded in time but what is even more amazing is the existence of actual rings, amulets, and even tattoos engraved with the words "This, too, shall pass" in Hebrew.
We all hope for certain things in life to come to pass. We look toward these events with great anticipation. Driving. Graduating. Dating. Marriage. Babies. Babysitters. Sleep. Sometimes there are things in life we don't want to come pass that end up coming about anyway. We dread these things. Betrayal. Loss. Disease. Fear. Death. It is when we encounter this second set of life happenings that questions and doubts begin to surface.
Will we make it through? Does God see me?
If we can muster up enough courage, we can look at these situations in our life and say, "This, too, shall pass." From this perspective it becomes a desire of hope.
What we need in times like these is hope. Here are just a few verses I was looking at this morning.
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
King Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, meditates on how the phases of life do not last. He uses this term more than forty times throughout the book. The word is "hevel" (הבל) and many Bibles render this word as meaningless. Tim Mackie of the Bible Project says, "Life is hevel or beautiful and mysterious but unclear, confusing, disorienting and uncontrollable like the fog." We are living in this season where life is incredibly unknown and uncertain. For me, my first instinct is to look at history for my comfort, instead of God. That's the truth. I immediately go to the fact that the world has seen troubles before and gotten through, so therefore, I will get through. But the one who ushers the future forward into history, is God, and I have to believe He knows what He is doing, even if He isn't necessarily operating off of my timeline.
There is something new coming. The last book in the Bible, Revelation, after EVERYTHING has passed, there is a new heaven and new earth and the reality of God in this space is that, “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.” (Revelation 21:4). After this passing away, the old shall truly have gone away, and eternity in heaven will be spent glorifying the Lord, and that, will never pass.
*Story adapted from: Leiman, Shnayer Z. (Spring 2008). "Judith Ish-Kishor: This Too Shall Pass". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 41 (1): 71–77.