O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
And you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
Restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
And give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
His favour for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
But joy comes with the morning.
~Psalm 30: 2-5
The Hebrew word for sheol is often translated into the English as hell. However, the Hebrew people did not have the same understanding of hell as it appears in the New Testament. The differences are fascinating so let’s delve deeper. In the New Testament concept of hell, there is fire and burning, gnashing of teeth. It sounds painful and dreadful. And much preaching has focused on turning people in repentance to God to save themselves from this concept of hell. But in the Old Testament, sheol, or the pit is not necessarily a place. It is more like an empty void or complete nothingness. It is the state where nothing exists. It is not a fiery hell; it might be more similar to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. To be in sheol means being cut off from everything, from relationships, even from God. It is to be entirely nothing in everyone’s eyes. No one wanted to be in the pit, or in sheol. It is the worst.
God does not leave the psalmist in the pit, in nothingness, however. God restores relationship, God restores one’s life from sheol. And God restores us to. There will be a day when we can hug our family and friends, when we can gather once again in the sanctuary of the church to worship God. To sing praise and psalms, to give thanks for all that God does for us in the midst of what feels like sheol. Joy returns as it did on that first Easter morning. Belief replaces doubt. Faith replaces weeping. And peace replaces the pit.
There is a beautiful Judith Snowdon choral piece called “Joy Returns in the Morning.” It reminds us of that joy we have because of all that God does for us. We wait for that real, tangible joy we will feel when our physical distancing ends and we can return to some normalcy. Until then, we wait and we live in the promise and hope of that new day because our God does have the final victory in the resurrection of our Risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
God of resurrection, because of Your victory over sin and death, we have hope in tomorrow, that joy returns in the morning. Remind us of Your promise every day and especially now in this time of pandemic. Calm our anxiousness and worry, help us to trust that there will be a time of joy again. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.