Saturday, August 29, 2009

Suicide, part 2

Well-meaning people will assure you that things are going to get better and there are plenty of joys you have yet to experience that are worth living for. Over time I've actually found this to be true. But when you're lying at the bottom of that dark pit looking up at the small circle of light above, those words seem like empty promises. You tend to be in a more skeptical frame of mind than the average person.

Because even if things do get better, you wonder how life could hold such bitterness in the first place. You've seen the ugliness behind the veil and now people are saying you can go back to pretending it isn't there? Why would you want to hop onto their merry-go-round when you know it is spinning in the middle of a wasteland? But then, there is no point in resenting them. Isn't it God whom you really question?

A closer look at Job reveals that it wasn't so much the loss of his children, his servants, his animals, his property or his bodily health that he found so devastating, but the near loss of his faith. He went straight for the heart of the matter when he vented his disillusionment with God. Who was this God who would allow such things to afflict a man who had served him so faithfully? Behind the veil Job saw the reality of his own frailty before an unrelenting Power who had a right to do as he pleased for reasons completely hidden from view. How could Job, a lowly, fallible human being be expected to play the game of life with a God who held all the cards, dictated all the rules and always produced the winning hand?
If I am wicked, woe to me!
And if I am righteous, I dare not life up my head.
I am sated with disgrace and conscious of misery.
And should my head be lifted up,
Thou wouldst hunt me like a lion;
And again Thou wouldst show Thy power against me.
(Job 10:15-16)

Doesn't matter what I do, Job says. If I'm wicked I'm doomed. If I'm righteous I'm disgraced by my sufferings. If I rise from my misery you'll just tear me down again like a lion.
For he bruises me with a tempest,
and multiplies my wounds without cause.
He will not allow me to get my breath,
But saturates me with bitterness.
If it is a matter of power, behold, he is the strong one!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Though I am righteous, my mouth will condemn me;
Though I am guiltless, he will declare me guilty.
(Job 9:17-20)

In other words, Job says, you can't win with God. He can afflict you all he wants with impunity. Power and justice are stacked on his side. Even when you think you are right, he can prove you wrong. You may think you are guiltless, but it is only his verdict that matters.
Why then hast Thou brought me out of the womb?
Would that I had died and no eye had seen me!
I should have been as though I had not been,
Carried from womb to tomb.
Would he not let my few days alone?
Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer?
(Job 10:18-20)

Why did God bother to make me? Job says. Why couldn't I have gone from womb to tomb instead of suffering all the miserable stuff in between? Couldn't God allow me a little happiness and leave me alone? Go away already!

The Bible isn't endorsing this perspective so much as acknowledging Job's real feelings as he fights for the survival his faith. Yes, these complaints were a function of Job's faith. Because if he were faithless he would have simply cursed God and walked away. Instead, desperation pushed him beyond the restraints of his normal pious fear. To save his faith he risked bringing his impious accusations openly before God in hope of getting an answer.

A lot of Christians feel they can't relate to Job because he insisted he was righteous and did not deserve the calamity he suffered. But actually it was because of Job's scrupulously righteous life that he could be such an able spokesman for the rest of us. His righteousness made him bold with God, more bold than someone whose guilty conscience would silence him in doubt. Job had no such reserve. He just let God have it.

In all my bitter wanderings and dark thoughts, I never dared to go where Job went. But if existential pain can be translated into words, I can affirm that Job's questions and complaints were exactly my own. God used Job to articulate what many of us cannot. He has even published Job's charges against himself in the Holy Scriptures, uncensored, for all of humanity to see. And he demonstrates by the restraint with which he rebukes Job and the abundance with which afterward blesses him, that he is not willing to crush or condemn those of us who rail against him in our desperation to believe in him.