Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Suicide, part 3

We are told at the beginning of the Book of Job how the whole deal got started. God and Satan were having a dispute over whether Job worshipped God from a true heart or whether his motives were purely mercenary. My guess is that this conversation was only a small snippet of some ancient dispute between God and Satan from way back. Satan was the one who had tricked Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit after all. He'd scored one against God there, so he figured Job would be more easy prey. He was saying that all he would have to do is destroy everything Job had and Job would renounce God in a heartbeat. God had more confidence in Job than that. He told Satan to go for it.

Job, knowing nothing about all this, saw everything he'd worked for in his life get trashed for no apparent reason. He managed to hang in there until, in a second wave of affliction, Satan struck him from head to toe with boils and he finally broke. He asked God what he did to deserve this. He demanded to know what sin he committed that brought this on. He wondered if God was capable of wickedness. He wondered if God had become perverse. He accused God of pulling rank on him--the rank of being too big, too powerful and too righteous to have to answer to a lowly mortal. The problem with God was . . . he was God.

O that a man might plead with God
As a man with his neighbor!
(Job 16:21)

In the end God answered Job, but it's not quite what we expect. God could have told Job about his conversation with Satan. He could have explained to Job that it was just a test of faith, that he didn't commit any great sin. He could have defended himself point by point against Job's accusations that he was being unjust, reckless and aloof.

But God knew that Job, in the throes of his sufferings, wasn't looking for "an answer." Job didn't want to be handed a list of reasons. "Well, you see, I'm conducting this test . . . it'll work together for the cosmic good . . . you'll get your life back when it's over . . ." None of that. The answer God gave was the only one Job craved. God appeared to him.
I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees Thee. (Job 42:5)

Job saw God with his own eyes and that was all the answer he needed. God rebuked him, too, (rather mildly considering the intensity of Job's accusations) and didn't answer him point by point. He reminded Job that his ways were beyond understanding. He appealed to everything about his wisdom and greatness that Job already knew but had become blinded to in the thickness of his sorrows. Essentially God asked him, "Don't you remember who I am and why you once trusted me?"

Job had to accept that there were reasons behind his sufferings he could never understand. Instead he had to find comfort in the presence of the One who held those answers. In the end Job was rewarded and God restored to him all that he had lost. But like all the Old Testament books, the message that the Book of Job contains is only a partial answer. Because even as we come to the close of the story, none of Job's accusations against God were ever answered. They still remained. How God can afflict us with no explanation. How God is accountable to no one and is too terrifying to approach with a complaint. How God is just too big and powerful for us to deal with when we are weak and crippled and in pain.

In other words, even God could not remain satisfied with the answer he gave Job. Not while those accusations still stood. His fuller answer was yet to come in the New Testament, and once again he knew that our souls would not be content with a dry list of reasons. We crave fellowship with a God who is not only willing to draw near but to come down, find out what it's like to be us, walk in our shoes, suffer as we suffer, in crippling, excruciating pain. The only answer God could give to Job was to become a man himself.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face,
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God and afflicted.
(Isaiah 53:3-4)

Jesus excelled Job both in righteousness and in suffering. He knew what it was like to be accused and afflicted and rejected for no apparent reason. As the Son of God, his fellowship with his Father sustained him through these hardships. Yet as he drew nearer to the moment of his death, as the persecution intensified and his friends fell away and he found himself captured and tortured and condemned, he sought for God yet encountered only silence. In his most desperate hour, God found himself abandoned by God. We are told that when Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out,
"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
(Matthew 27:46)

If you've ever been there, you know that this is not a question. Jesus was not asking to be told, "You have to be forsaken so you can bear the sins of the world. It's part of the plan. The atonement, remember?" Jesus knew that, but for him, in that moment, this was not an answer. He was alone, his heart was breaking, he was suffering something no righteous man, no divine being, should ever have to suffer. And he wanted to know why.

Sometimes the only comfort you can give to someone with a broken heart is to say, "I know." At one time God could not say this to us; but he wanted to. So he did what it took to be able to say it. God was forsaken. God broke. God asked the question that was not really a question. It was his final answer to Job.