Digging in Deeper: Lamentations 3:17-18

“My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'” (ESV – Read the chapter)

Eighteen months. Eighteen months of nothing. There were rumors and reports, sure, but nothing concrete to embrace. Not a single thing. Then it suddenly arrived: Hope and the promise of a brighter future. We could all breathe a big sigh of relief because Marvel Studios had indeed not succumbed to the COVID economy. After waiting since July 2, 2019 when Spider-Man: Far From Home hit theaters, on Friday, January 15, 2021, the much anticipated new entry, Wandavision finally premiered on Disney+. Whether because it really is that good, or because we’d all grown so used to Marvel’s regular theatrical releases that the absence primed our hearts to be fond of whatever they released next, it has been a major hit. After months of nothing but rumors and scoops, the Marvel fandom finally had something solid to digest and debate. And so it has. This morning let’s talk about Wandavision and what it just may mean for you and me.

Let me go ahead and start with a spoiler alert here just in case you haven’t started watching yet and don’t want to learn anything ahead of your own glorious watching experience. Let me also offer the disclaimer that I’m going to make reference to Marvel characters who have been in the movies and who had not yet. If the movies are your only Marvel experience, you may not know who I’m talking about. Don’t worry about that. You won’t need to know when we get where we’re going. Personally, I haven’t yet watched today’s new entry in the series. That’ll happen with my boys over lunch. That being said, with six episodes down, Wandavision has been absolutely amazing. The show is a generous and respectful nod to American sitcom history layered over the top of Marvel’s standard mystery and excitement and whispers of something bigger going on just beneath the surface.

The first two episodes were filmed in black and white and were wonderfully reminiscent of the Dick Van Dyke show and Bewitched. The very first episode was even filmed before a live studio audience. It opens with Avengers Wanda Maximoff and Vision living in the idyllic town of Westview as a pair of blissfully happy newlyweds. Of course, the last time we saw Vision, Thanos had killed him by removing the Mind Stone from his forehead just before snapping half the life in the universe (which at the time included Wanda) out of existence. When Bruce Banner reversed The Snap just before Thanos’ reappearance and final defeat, Wanda was brought back into existence, but because Vision was killed before The Snap he was not so fortunate. How, then, he is alive and well at the beginning of this series is a mystery.

Over the course of the first three episodes we begin to see some cracks in the rosy façade. There are hints that all is not as it appears. In episode four, the curtain gets pulled back and we learn that somehow Wanda created what is essentially a blip in reality on the town of Westview, NJ. No one understands how she did it or even what exactly it is. As the next two episodes reveal more and more mystery, we also discover that while not even Wanda fully seems to fully understand what is going on, Vision has figured out that she is somehow controlling the residents of Westview against their will and he’s not happy about it. Last week’s episode ended with Vision trying to escape the reality bubble to call for help, nearly dying in the process, and Wanda’s expanding the boundaries of the bubble.

Because this is what comic fans do, each week of the series has prompted more and more speculation about what is really happening in the show. There are multiple different YouTube channels featuring hosts offering their own theories. The major focus of the theorizing right now is that the character Mephisto is the real villain of the series. This fits with the original comic storyline on which the show is based. There have also been folks on the lookout for a variety of other villains and even other heroes who are hinted at in Easter eggs sprinkled throughout each episode. The most recent speculations have been aimed in the direction of various mutant characters or members of the Fantastic Four.

Admittedly, I have enjoyed watching some of these each week, watching the following week’s episode, and laughing at just how profoundly wrong the previous week’s guesses were. One of my favorite was when a mysterious character in a beekeeper’s outfit climbed out of the sewer at the end of the second episode. The instant speculation was that this could be an incredibly obscure villain who had control over bugs and whose body was occasionally made of bees. The justification for this guess and why this character could fit in with the show’s larger focus ran on for nearly ten minutes. Then we learned a couple of episodes later that it was a S.W.O.R.D. agent who snuck into the city through the barrier via the sewer lines. He was wearing a hazmat suit because they didn’t know what to expect inside the bubble and this suit was transformed into a beekeeper’s outfit because that fit the design of the world better than his hazmat suit did. Not a villain at all.

Well, at the risk of being proven fantastically wrong – even by today’s episode – allow me to offer my own theory on what’s going on in Wandavision. Knowing Marvel, there are still some earthshattering revelations to come in the final four episodes, but I think the series is really about grief. Specifically, it is about Wanda’s grief over losing Vision. In spite of his being a synthezoid (that is, a really fancy robot), he was the love of her life and he died. Actually, he was murdered right in front of her and there was nothing she could do about it. He was murdered in front of her eyes after she had killed him herself in an attempt to avoid this very fate. Then, she was removed from existence only to be brought back into existence five years later. In other words, in the last few years, Wanda has been the victim of almost unimaginably painful trauma. She is grief-stricken and struggling to figure out how to move forward with her life.

I suspect that if the Christian faith played any kind of a role in the Marvel universe and if Wanda was a Bible-reader, this verse would pretty ably capture her emotional state. “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'”

Wanda is grieving. She is experiencing a profound and painful loss perhaps very much like you have experienced in your own life. When we lose a loved one – especially in some traumatic fashion – the experience can be so painful that it becomes disorienting. We might lose the ability to engage meaningfully with the world around us. It is not at all uncommon for us to try desperately to reach for some moment or situation in the past or even that we create as a fantasy world where we are with our loved one once again. We do this to avoid feeling the pain of our grief. We’re trying to hide from it. Whatever else Marvel reveals as they begin setting the scene for an entirely new phase of their cinematic universe, I think that Wandavision is really about how we grieve when we’ve been through a season of trauma and tragedy. It just happens to be that the main character has the power to bring into actual existence the reality to which she wants to escape. You and I can’t do that, but how many of us would try – even if it hurt other people – if we did have that power?

Grief is a hard thing. It can make us do crazy things that we wouldn’t normally even consider to be within the bounds of reasonable. When the prophet Jeremiah was writing these words, he knew that level of grief. He had watched his whole nation be conquered and destroyed. A thriving civilization was reduced to rubble. He lost friends, possibly family members. The survivor’s guilt alone had to be intense. Worse yet, he felt abandoned by God Himself. Perhaps he cried out the words written by David so many generations before; words that Jesus Himself would cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The question with which we must wrestle (since we can’t create a reality bubble like Wanda has) is how we move forward in such a season. Where do we find hope and life again? How do we breathe without the weight of the world and our circumstances pressing down on our chests?

If this is where you think I’ll offer a magic bullet to make the pain go away, I’m going to leave you sadly disappointed. There is no such miracle cure for grief. It doesn’t exist. Some worldviews may promise one, but those hopes are uniformly unfulfilled. Even watching Wandavision, you get the sense that she is starting to realize this flight from reality can’t go on forever and is clinging to it with an increasingly desperate tenacity to avoid losing her refuge from the pain. Fortunately, the Scriptures do not offer us such false hope. Jeremiah never claims to find something to make his pain go away. Instead, what he leans into is a truth that is bigger than his pain.

We find this over the next few verses. Listen to this: “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” Are you with him? God, don’t forget my pain and bitterness. I can’t think about anything else and it’s weighing me down terribly. But look where he goes next: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Now, what do you think could possibly finish that sentence? What could give him hope in such a desperate situation as he is in?

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” What Jeremiah leans into in the midst of his terrible grief and pain – what you can lean into in the midst of your terrible grief and pain – is the faithful character of God. For Jeremiah this was a potent hope. Potent enough to draw him forward to keep living in spite of his pain. For us, it’s even better. We have a God who is not unfamiliar with pain. He knows loss and grief. He gave up His only Son so that we might live. He lost so that we can have hope. And in so doing, showed Himself faithful such that we can indeed go to Him when we are in our seasons of grief and find the comfort and encouragement we need to keep moving forward to the life that is waiting for us on the other side of it.

Grief is hard. But God is good. If you are in a hard season, turn to Him. It will not make all your pain go away. I won’t dare promise that. But you can walk forward knowing that you have One who will walk with you who understands your pain. You can walk forward to where the fog isn’t so thick any longer knowing that you won’t be walking alone. Don’t run from the pain. The way out is never back. It is through. If you’ll let Him, the God of the Bible will help you through.

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