To Make Matters Worse

Batman VilliansBatman? Batman??? What does Batman possibly have to do with the Bible??? I know. But I promise you that it’s still a devotional. (I’d tell you I haven’t lost my mind but the jury is still out on that one.) Just bear with me this morning and I’m willing to bet you’ll be glad you did… Batman or no Batman ūüėČ

The list is pretty long. Penguin. Ra’s al Ghul. Riddler. Catwoman. Bane. Killer Croc. Clayface. Two Face. Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn. Scarecrow. Man Bat. Mr. Freeze. But not a one of them can compare to that one singular opponent, that clown prince of crime and chaos, that murderous arch-nemesis… the Joker. Out of all the villains¬†that Batman ever faced, none measured up to the Joker. He wasn’t the first but he was certainly the most infamous. Time and time again the Joker would resurface to wreak havoc upon Gotham City and challenge Batman in a contest of wits and fists. The Joker was Batman’s chief opponent, his primary adversary, the one who provoked Batman like no other villain who ever walked the back alleys and dark streets of Gotham.

In 1 Samuel 1 we encounter another classic protagonist (albeit, not as well-known), a lady by the name of Peninnah. What’s that you say? You don’t remember her? Well, that’s understandable. We all know Hannah, the mother of Samuel. But very few of us know Peninnah. But one thing I can promise you is that Hannah knew Peninnah very well (too well as far as Hannah was probably concerned).¬†Look at¬†the text in 1 Samuel 1:6-7, “Her rival¬†(Peninnah), however, would provoke her (Hannah)¬†bitterly to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her; so she wept and would not eat.”

Provoke. Quite literally, the idea is to cause someone anger. But bear in mind, this isn’t merely an older brother who hits you on the arm every time¬†your parents look away. No, this is something much deeper and darker. Just look at the impact it had on Hannah. Anger. Tears. Loss of appetite. This isn’t some slight irritation. This is something that borders on serious clinical depression. And the truly tragic part is that it was ongoing, continual, year after year with no apparent end in sight. Hannah desperately wanted children but had none. Peninnah¬†had children and wouldn’t let Hannah forget it. I don’t know¬†how it played out exactly¬†but regardless of the specifics Peninnah¬†was relentless and merciless in her attacks on Hannah. Worst of all is that Hannah’s husband did nothing to prevent it.¬†Whether he was ignorant or indifferent, the bottom line was that he did nothing to protect his wife. It short it became never-ending heartbreak for Hannah. The annual trip to sacrifice to the Lord became a nightmare. Instead of a time of worship and refreshing it became a time of personal torture and torment.

Granted, most of us don’t have a literal, physical¬†Peninnah¬†in our lives. But we all have things that provoke us. For some it’s the past. Memories of wasted opportunities and things done or said continually wear you down. For others its fear and worry. You find yourself constantly wrestling against uncertainty and unbelief. Still others find themselves provoked by guilt and shame. No matter how hard you try you can’t seem to free yourself from the shackles of sinful habits and temptation. The list of things that provoke God’s children can seem almost as endless at times as the list of Batman’s foes… envy, jealousy, regret, lust, greed, pride, anger, hatred, bitterness, despair, depression, sickness, disease, and on and on it goes. And just like Hannah we find ourselves tortured and tormented year after year after year. Other people are seemingly blessed but we feel forgotten. Others live in the light of His favor but we feel abandoned. Others receive the gift but our wombs have been shut. And with each waking morning the flood of disappointments and setbacks only serves to further provoke our already weary and discouraged spirits.

Fortunately, that wasn’t¬†the end of the story for Hannah. If you ever watched the old Batman TV show, you’ll remember how almost every episode ended. The arch-villain¬†would have Batman caught in some elaborate trap.¬†His demise looked certain. Death was only a few minutes away. But then the words “To Be Continued” would flash across the screen. Without fail the next episode would begin with Batman stuck in that same trap. But at just the last moment he would devise¬†an escape, defeat the Joker, and save the day. Remember? Now, here’s the incredible part for us. No matter what¬†we are facing today, we need to remember that it’s not the end of the story. With God there is always a “To Be Continued.”¬†Just ask Hannah. In time her tears of anguish would become tears of joy. The voice of her protagonist would be forever silenced by the sound of a newborn infant’s cry. Yes,¬†Hannah’s enemy harassed her. But¬†Hannah’s God had not forgotten her. In time what seemed like certain disaster would fall before God’s plans and He would defeat the enemy and save the day. Take heart, my friend. I know it seems hopeless right now. But God is faithful and He will not fail you.