Sunday, January 12, 2014

The-God-Who-Is…The-God-Who-Is-Not

After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz. "I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately of me, as my servant Job has. ~ Job 42:7



Every nerve ending screamed pain as the rough edge of the pottery shard scraped the dried blood and brittle scabs covering the volcanoes of suffering that had erupted through the surface of his skin. Fresh crimson flowed like lava gathering gray ashes that left streaks down his arms and legs. As Job reeled from the violent death of his children, his vanished possessions, and his livelihood, a concoction of sympathy, pity, confusion, and loss of hope caused Job's wife to wail. "Curse God and die." He would curse the day he was born, but he would not curse his God. But the tortuous days turned into weeks, and Job's thoughts and complaints went deeper into the dark question of "Why?"

Suffering will raise questions the good times never will. Does anything stir up the content of our faith more than pain? Eliphaz and others presumed to have all the answers to the root of Job's suffering. But God never answered Job's questions. God's silence surprised and confused Job.

We are no different.

In suffering our very questions are steeped in our belief in God and our un-belief in God. Meaning, if we didn't believe in Him at all, we wouldn't hold him responsible for our Providence, yet we don't believe in Him enough to trust our Providence to his care. Hard words, I know, and like so many before us, we have lashed out during suffering.

Toward the end of his epic, Job revealed that he had misgivings about God, and that he based some of his beliefs about God on what he had heard from others. In the latter, I don't believe he was trying to pass the buck; I believe he was stating a revelation that suffering had brought about. "It is I--and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me… I had only heard about you before…"

Sometimes we need to deconstruct and un-learn what we have been taught or come to believe about God--especially regarding suffering. Brutal honesty may mean a confession/repentance that we have listened to too many theological/theoretical voices or placed our wisdom above God's without ever listening to The Voice that speaks amid suffering. Misconceptions about suffering can destroy our faith. Often the God we believe in is one we have created, rather than the One who created us. Trusting in that God--the one we created--we come out of suffering not as gold purified by fire, but instead may become a simmering caldron of molten and consuming anger, disappointment, and disillusionment.

"Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." That would be, as Brennan Manning says, ruthless trust. I, for one, bravely and sincerely adopted such a mantra, and maybe you did too. Then, we learn that we have to live with pain that transcends the physical, like broken dreams and relationships, God's seeming favor lost, career advancement reversed, or diminished health and wealth. One at a time, or all at once, life caves in on us. It is in those circumstances that what we believe about God comes to the surface.

In the end, Job got it right. He chose The-God-Who-Is, rather than The-God-Who-Is-Not. He did not come away an agnostic or an atheist.

Neither will we.

To God be the glory...


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