Ps.30:11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing NLT. The Message puts it, ‘You ripped off my black mourning armband and decked me with flowers’. What a startling transformation of a personal situation!

Rare is the person who has not suffered some kind of setback. It is an accepted fact that at some time in our life we will be faced with a setback. It happens in professional sports careers, in businesses, in general health, in social undertakings, in marriages and families. It happens on a larger scale when entire communities are stricken with natural disasters – earthquakes, floods and fires, or pandemics such as Covid 19.

The psalmist, whether it was David or not, had been plunged into a period of pain and loss. The kind of loss that subjects our mental and emotional caliber to excessively stressful levels; leaving us unable to cope relying on our own resources. His faith relationship with God changed his mood and perspective, lifting him from setback to comeback.

In 2 Cor. 11 Paul lists his setbacks, imprisonment, beatings, near death experiences, flogging, lashing, stoning, shipwreck, being robbed, betrayed, treated badly, severe illness that he begged God to remove. That is a formidable record of endurance which none of us would want to experience. His comeback was ensured each time by God’s undertaking, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness’. 12:9 TM. This is something God does ‘when our sufficiency gives out and his all sufficiency takes over’ (Peterson).

Recovery is an established seasonal pattern written into nature. The deadness of winter is replaced with the fertility of spring. The extraordinary damage left by a veld fire is transformed by the slow appearance of shoots and new buds. Drought and flood create devastation, destruction and death and we wonder if anything can survive, but slowly and tenderly the life forces within nature take over the work of restoration and renewal covering the scars left behind.

The cross and crucifixion (what a setback) followed by the tomb and resurrection (what a comeback). ‘Jesus death and resurrection is God’s way of revealing a universal pattern that weaves through all life. God can take the worst thing in the world – the killing of the God-Human Jesus – and change it into the best thing: the redemption of the world. The same can happen for us.’ (Richard Rohr). As one other writer put it ‘The darkness of the tomb became the darkness of the womb giving birth to a new era of living’.

My neighbour has recently had his house remodeled. Their seven months of demolition, ripping out ceilings, walls cupboards, dust, bricks, mortar, sand, strewn cables and tearful delays – all in all, what a setback to a family home, but seeing the splendid result and completed transformation – what a stunning comeback! Perhaps there is a parable in that relating to the setbacks our day to day living may bring. Bad decisions lead us into disappointment, loss and frustration.  We took a risk and regretted it. A medical diagnosis plunges us into shock and despair and we wonder if the body will recover. It may not, but the spirit can triumph. A failure in our planning and action, or retrenchment resulting in unemployment leading to a mental breakdown or depression. Bereavement strikes cutting deep into precious relationships. The sense of loss creates a gap no one can fill. Grief always comes as a setback. These are setbacks we may suffer, but God in the abundance of his grace together with the resilience of the human spirit can bring about a comeback.

Peter did not know himself and overestimating his capabilities made a declaration of allegiance he didn’t keep. He stepped out of the boat and set off with faulty confidence ending in a near drowning. His comeback established him as a leader in the early church. Joseph was cut down to size by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual misconduct and imprisoned in a foreign land. His comeback was his full restoration and appointment as C.E.O. of the Egyptian economic recovery; all the work of God  Gen.45:8. Job lost everything he owned and was cursed by his wife, but he was restored, ‘The lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former’ (42:12). A comparable example of such a comeback in South Africa is Mandela; from years of incarceration on Robben Island to inauguration as the first Black President of this country.

We worship a wonderful, all powerful, all loving, faithful God who keeps his promises. Setbacks may come as a result of our own decisions, or through circumstances beyond our control, but the economy of God’s grace is sufficient to turn each one in some way into a comeback – to his glory and praise.