The house, for all the violence it had endured in the storm, had, thankfully, been built upon a firm foundation, and still stood upright in its place. Various pieces of its frame littered the yard, along with sticks and leaves and other detritus that the wind had tossed; but that was not the real calamity. It was the inside of the courtyard surrounded by rooms that formed the Judaean home that showed the ferocity of the storm. There had been a vine, beautiful and flourishing, inside the walls of the house, rooted in that courtyard. It had provided fruits in abundance and a hospitable shade, even for all that sat around it. But now, now it was smashed and shredded and from every appearance would be barren for some time, if it survived this travesty. Its tender blossoms were madly strewn about the yard, and its tendrils twisted and torn. To all who looked upon its vestiges, it was a desolate sight. The tears of passersby fell at the remembrance of its former state.
Amazingly, in the courtyard, not far from where the vine had been planted, a feisty, generations-old olive tree still stood upright, though it was twisted and somewhat hunched over with age. It had outlasted many a blast from the weather over its numerous years, and it appeared there was hope for the family tree to recover from the storm. But no—maybe not for long. One look at the tender plants that grew up from its roots and that had been flourishing well all around the base of the olive tree told otherwise. They were splayed on the ground, all akimbo, and looking for all the world as though the wind and the floods had all but destroyed them right along with the vine. The only thing they had in their favor was the fact that they were still bound to the ancient tree, and it was the venerable old tree’s roots that fed them, and not their own at this point.
It had been a violent storm, indeed, to shake the vine and the olive plants so mercilessly. But the storm had passed now, and there was work to be done. Restoration was a necessity if the house and the vine and the olive plants were yet to survive. But there was no one to take charge, to put things to rights, to give care and nourishment to the tender vine so that it might recover and bear fruit again, to prop the olive plants in their places around the olive tree and see to their needs. The vine was even more fragile than it had been when planted, and the little olive plants were yet young and needed tending until they were at least fifteen years old and bore their first good fruit for harvest. Only time would tell how they would fare in their desperate situation. But it was over now. The servant who had promised to care for the property he had sought from the master was gone. There would be no return. He had found another house, another vine.
Far from the ancient households of Judea in both time and place, homes in the United States of America have, nevertheless, seen the violent winds of divorce wreaking havoc for many years now, especially with the advent of the possibility of “no-fault divorce” in the state of California in 1970. And those bold, cold winds have not bypassed the homes of some of those across the aisles in our churches, as God’s mighty foe, Satan has increasingly sought to destroy God’s precious gift of marriage and family relationships through the sins of abuse, adultery, and/or abandonment by those entrusted with the care and keeping of their families by their marriage vows before Him.
Some of us have loved ones who have barely survived its ravages; and some of us have emerged from these whirlwinds ourselves, like Job did, stunned at the Hand of God upon us. And yet, by the breath of the Spirit within, we came to know that the Lord was the One who had given, and the Lord was the One who had taken away (), and He was worthy of our praise, even in this. But the storm is fierce and destructive that comes through divorce, and that is not an overstatement. In the middle of its desolation, it is easy to wonder—even as believers—how any kind of recovery is even possible. An abandoned wife and her young children—by the filing of a decree intended to set free the one who had vowed to care for them—have been relegated to the courts of the land for determination of how their lives will proceed in two separate households. How can there even be a normal life again? The truth becomes bitterly clear to those who remain in that home shattered by divorce: the strength will not be found in the vine by the (in)sides of the house’s wall, nor will the tender plants rise up in their own power. It is the Master Himself who will come to the aid of His helpless ones—and He does. He does this by His Spirit in their hearts, through His Word in their ears from faithful pastors and elders, and by the members of His body, the church, here on earth.
Jesus Christ Himself knows the agony of desertion as no other ever has or ever will. He knows the place of the olive tree well, for it was in the garden at Gethsemane—Gat Shemen, “the place of the olive press,” that the bloody sweat was pressed out of Him like olive oil. All His earthly friends had deserted Him in their own weariness at that point, as He faced the most horrible desertion yet to come when God Himself would forsake His Son on the cross of Calvary. And He knows the courtroom and the fear and the injustice that awaits those who carry God’s Name on their lips. He knows the mockery. He knows the betrayal and the denial of those He once called friends. And He draws near to them, a High Priest who has been Himself “touched with the feelings of our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15). Though there be many who have been wronged by others, or have suffered pain in body or soul, or suffered hunger, poverty, persecution, loneliness, or cruel mockery, is there any whose sorrow has approached a sorrow “like unto his sorrow?” (). He has known every sorrow as the “Man of Sorrows,” who came into our human flesh to suffer willingly. When they have no voice to utter their pain to God, God’s children have His Spirit to intercede for them with “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). And the Father listens, and promises and pours out upon us such blessings as we cannot imagine—for the sake of His well-beloved Son.
His Word, when we hear it from the mouths of His faithful servants, read it ourselves, take it into our hearts, and hearken to His commandments, brings peace in the storm—peace like a river that sustains, nourishes, strengthens us for every need we have (). We are able to have joy in suffering as we “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God” in our suffering, and as He Himself lifts us up to heights of joy in His presence ( ). We have His assurance that our “reward is great in heaven” when we suffer reproach on earth for Christ’s sake from others who seek to destroy our name ( ). And though often, because of court orders and visitation schedules, mothers and children are separated for days as they obey earthly judges, they have God’s precious promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God,” by which we are bound together even when physically we are, for a time, far apart ( ).
And though it is God Himself who helps the lonely and distressed in their need, there is nothing more beautiful than when His help comes through the body of Christ in the form of the willing hands and open hearts of fellow believers. The mercies of Christ brought by the servants of the Lord in the diaconate; an invitation of hospitality and fellowship to a broken family; the card or letter or hug or kind word of encouragement; the offered prayer; the visit; the pledge of help; the gift of a meal; the concern for needs not only physical, but spiritual; the welcoming smile—all of these are the pouring out of Christ’s love upon the wounds of a broken family. Do you know, reader, that inasmuch as you have done these things unto those who feel at times that they are “the least of his brethren,” you have done them unto Him? (). The needs are ongoing, weighty at times, and often bring others into situations that are painful and unpleasant to see, but the help of God’s people to fellow saints who have been chosen by God to suffer in this way bears a beautiful blessing: the sight of a vine being strengthened and once again bearing fruits of the Spirit in her home, and olive plants flourishing around the table.
All praise to the One who “gives beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” that those who mourn in Zion may be called “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” ().