Water in the Desert - By Katherine Rehberg

Image: Katherine Rehberg

Image: Katherine Rehberg

“And He will wipe every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away…Behold, I am making all things new…for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:5

“They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” Isaiah 61:4

“Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” Psalm 130:7

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18-24a

What is this newness? Of what quality are the repairs?

Can things be new if they’re not shiny?

Can they be repaired if they’re not fixed?
It’s hard to see newness in this place so well known for its ancient things, its pyramids and hieroglyphics and pharaohs. The ‘first things’ seem permanent here: old tensions, old conflicts, old men holding onto power. New ideas are silenced by Internet firewalls and media blackouts.
Where is the newness in the desert, where there’s no water for miles and it feels like only the flies are thriving? Where is it when, just a short drive away, thousands of people are held in ‘stores’ where they are tortured, abused and killed? Where is it when a few of those people escape, finding themselves far from their home countries and unable to return?
Devastation sits here like a fog that will not lift. Can the heaviness really be raised up? It’s not the former here but the present. It speaks through the woman’s panicked shrieks and the teenager’s violent threats. It’s visible in the man’s constant nervous motion as he looks anywhere but into my eyes.
The devastation boasts through daily reports of evictions and assaults, beatings and seizures, panic attacks, kidnapped cousins, missing parents and dying children. We sometimes call this place a ‘prison,’ and I wonder – can these ruins really be redeemed?
The promise of ‘all things new’ baffles me here. Hope in anything, let alone newness, feels offensive. Wouldn’t it be less painful to surrender to the suffering than to wait for the glory?
And yet occasionally I sense a strange sweetness. A hint of redemption.

Like the white sesame paste sold in almost every corner store.  Sometimes I see it in young women choosing to love the babies they’ve borne but did not choose to conceive. Once it was in the tears of a wife comforting her husband after learning of suffering he’d long been afraid to share. It’s in kids giggling as parents weep and in the kindness of neighbors despite their differing political loyalties. It’s in the many people who choose to live rather than die and choose to make this city ‘home’ though it never will be the ‘home’ of their passport.

Here, there is beauty even in the old and dry things. The ancient relics root the present and give depth and meaning, while the sand paints the desert as far as the eye can see. Old women sit on their stoops watching neighborhood children play. The politicians’ fierce arguing – sometimes even this seems to call me to hope for the future of this place.

So maybe newness is not absent here. Mysterious newness this is.

But the promise that ‘suffering is not worth comparing to glory’  - I don’t think this means that glory will somehow make it as though the suffering had never happened. Just as Jesus retains the scars of his suffering even in glory, perhaps we too remain cracked even as we are repaired.
And so I don’t think ‘all things new’ means ‘just like new.’ No, glory must just be weightier than suffering. Glory’s power must just be stronger. Somehow the suffering will always bow to the glory. And so it is here, where newness amid so much ruin is itself glorious.