For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who saves all people. – 1 Timothy 4:10 (NRSVA, adapted)
The Rev. Dr. William Barber II of the Poor People’s Campaign tells this story. Some years before the Civil War ended slavery, Frederick Douglass’s energy for the abolition movement was flagging. He had succumbed to depression, sure that if God really intended to liberate Black Americans, God would have done it by then.
He had to give an inspiring speech but lacked the spirit. Sojourner Truth stared hard at his weary face from across the room. She opened her mouth and hollered at him,
“Frederick, IS GOD DEAD?!”
Startled out of his reverie of despair, he stood up, and found his voice. He kept going for decades after that, through the war, until long after Emancipation and the backlash against it that gave rise to the Jim Crow South, years of victories and years of setbacks.
The night is sometimes so long. Impossibly long. How can the earth have gotten so stalled in its orbit that the night lasts forever? How long can such horrors, such suffering, such stuckness, such polarization, such fear and distress and confusion possibly continue? If God were going to fix it, whatever the “it” is that is wearing us down, surely God would have done it by now?
Dr. Barber reminds us that even the greatest liberators in history had their long nights of the soul. The ancestors have lived through much worse than many of us. Who are we to give up, when we are so close to breaking through into a kindom such as human society has never yet seen?
In the words of Bishop Barber: this is our time to fight. This is our cross to bear. Lord, give us wisdom, give us courage, for the living of these days, and the long nights that punctuate them. Amen.