. . . so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
“Houston, we have a problem.” Memorialized by Ron Howard’s 1995 film Apollo 13, these words have left an indelible mark upon our culture and our conversations within it. Even if you didn’t watch the movie, I bet you have quoted astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks), at least once.
Apollo 13 chronicles the ill-fated lunar mission by the same name. Shortly after escaping the gravitational bonds of Earth’s atmosphere, there is an unforeseen problem aboard the space craft, an electrical malfunction—a fuse blows; a circuit is fried. Instantly, all hope of landing on the moon is lost, and, with it, any hope of making it back home to Earth, which is now slowly fading out of sight.
In a flash of brilliance, ground control devises a last-ditch effort to save the spacecraft from floating helplessly into the deathly blackness of space. The plan is to use the moon’s gravitational pull to slingshot the shuttle back toward the earth. To do this, however, the shuttle will have to go around the dark side of the moon. When this happens, all radio contact will be severed, the temperature will drop to 200 degrees below zero, and an inconceivable darkness will engulf the shuttle.
It is one of the most memorable scenes in all of cinema. Jim Lovell watches through a small shuttle window as the earth is slowly eclipsed by the relentless black behemoth. As the scene fades into blackness, the audience is gripped by a sense of utter despair, fear, helplessness. This is what it is like to be completely alone.
This last Sunday, Mark reminded us that there is often a long wait in between what God has promised and the possession of that promise. A long wait can be bad enough. But when that wait happens on the dark side of the moon, it can be excruciating.
Most of you know what I mean. You know what it is to wait for the promise on the dark side where it is cold, black, and lonely. The wait on the dark side has its own vocabulary. There are words like chemo, divorce, addiction, or bankruptcy. There are phrases like “I’m sorry, we can’t find a heartbeat.” “I regret to inform you.” Or “This time it’s inoperable.”
A wait on the dark side can be numbing. Many here find themselves having lost the joy of their salvation. They remember a time when their heart was full of love for God. But for some inexplicable reason they now find themselves indifferent, cold, and stagnant. They long for the presence of God as they once sensed Him; but try as they might, He hides His face from them.
A wait on the dark side can be embittering. In the face of great pain and long absences of His presence, numbness often turns to bitterness. For instance, consider Naomi in the book of Ruth. She lost her husband, her two children, her homeland, and any hope of a reasonable future. To add insult to injury, God was silent. And she was angry. She warns the women of Bethlehem not to call her Naomi, which means “pleasant.” Instead, she gives herself a new name—Mara. It means “bitter.” She exclaims, “Call me Bitter because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly.” These are the words of a woman waiting on the dark side.
It is at this point that the words of our text become a wellspring of life. “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” This promise of God to all His children is sure, no matter how dark it gets.
As Jim Lovell floated helplessly on the dark side of the moon, he could not see the earth. Nor could he hear it. It was as if it had ceased to exist. But, in reality, there was a whole crew of people working feverishly to bring him home.
To all those waiting on the dark side: Your God has not ceased to exist. He will bring you safely home. In the midst of your suffering, He suffers with you. Though you feel forsaken, He will never forsake you. In spite of your sense of abandonment, He has never abandoned you. Although you feel He has let you go, His fist is still tightly clenched around you.
To all those waiting on the dark side: Though you wait, you do not wait alone.