Tag Archives: Job

Veil of Tears 98: Disappointed

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They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed.” Job 6:20 NIV

When we get to our destination, and after all those hours travelling, that tearing of hair and yelling at the kids, having spent weeks washing and sorting the right laundry, waiting around in airports, and we find the hotel is infested with cockroaches, we are disappointed by circumstances.

When we put our all into something, maybe our heart into writing a poem, and no-one notices, worse, someone gives us harsh criticism, or we put our best efforts into a friendship and the friend ditches us at the first sign of someone who is better connected, we are disappointed by people.

When our dreams are tied up in frazzled nothing days where there is no time and we can’t get motivated, or the procrastination or our own self-doubts stop us from even thinking about beginning, then we are disappointed in ourselves.

And when our prayers seem to go unanswered and yet more difficulties come, and there is only silence where we were hoping for loving words and affirmation, then we can also find ourselves disappointed in God.

Hopes and dreams are wonderful things, but they are also deeply painful, concealing as they do, great pits of despair and disappointment which we fall into time and time again, the golden boughs above us laid as if purposely criss-crossed above the top of the hole, luring us into expectation and letting us fall flat on our faces. Life really can feel like that a lot of the time.

But the Lord does not give us hopes in order to cause us to fall into despair, and he does not give us dreams in order to have them break our hearts when they arrive in a different form to the one we imagined. Our God is a God of “endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:5) and though often he works through miracles, we see over and over again in the Scriptures and in our lives, that he works far more frequently through the process of blessings. A growth and a blossoming, with all in its rightful place and season.

If the Lord gives us silence, or a no, then that is in some unfathomable way, what we need right now. It is sometimes, of course, that our own emotional pain is so loud we cannot hear over it, or through it, but where the silence is God’s, it is sent gently and with love. Perhaps it is an opportunity to exercise faith and patience, or an invitation to simply sit and learn to listen in a different way. Maybe it is a direction in itself to see the Lord in other things, to experience him in his creation, through other people, in our own actions and self-love, in liturgy, in any number of different ways rather than in the ways to which we have become accustomed and which are now, not enough on their own. The Lord is always wanting his relationship with us to become deeper, and wider, greater, more and more full, and more centred around his Trinitarian personhood. There are many times in our spiritual lives where a painful epiphany needs to move that forward. At such times, disappointment can be a catalyst, like a stick of dynamite that shifts some rubble and allows us to enter a new place, a new level of intimacy, a new room, perhaps of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. We are downcast, disheartened, and so we move deeper into God, into that one necessity, that one being who is love, and who will, at the end of the journey, never ever disappoint us.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

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Veil of Tears 91: Misdiagnosed

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You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” Job 13:4 NIV

Over my 20 years of chronic illness I have known a great many “worthless physicians” I can tell you.   I’ve been ignored, disbelieved or told to go away. I’ve been told “I think it’s M.E. but I don’t believe in it” and after a dreadfully difficult journey to London, a neurologist at a top hospital said, “I don’t know what they sent you to me for. I can refer you to a psychiatrist if you like.” Even the most sympathetic doctors that I have seen have been able to do nothing more than shrug their shoulders. “Well I don’t have a magic wand,” one GP told me over and over again every time I went to him to ask for help. After my worst relapse so far, when I was in terrible pain and every movement was desperately hard and exhausting, a doctor, clearly exasperated and to my shock, not believing me, told me and my worried parents, “Well if you need a wheelchair, you should look in the Yellow Pages.”

And everyone who has this illness, or yet to be properly classified/researched/so-called “invisible” illnesses and diseases which don’t conveniently present with easily analysed bloodwork or purple spots, has numerous similar stories. It is exasperating, heart-breaking, soul-destroying. Because we go to the doctor when we don’t feel well, and we expect some help. That’s not so strange, is it?

Likewise, Job was visited by his supposedly wise, spiritually mature friends, and all they did was give him the religious equivalent of my doctors. “You must have done something terrible, best repent,” is their general message. And I’m sorry to say, this is the same message that passes as spiritual wisdom in many churches today. Seen it, been told it, been prayed for about it. “Hidden sin” it’s sometimes called, and the hurtful assumption behind it is that you’ve brought the illness upon yourself by doing something sinful. That, in other words, it is, on some conveniently inscrutable level, your own fault.

Do we not think that the sick and disabled are suffering enough without being told to repent on their dungheaps by people who are clearly (because fit and healthy) so much better, cleaner, more right with God? This is holier than thou taken to painful extremes. And the main reason it happens is pure ignorance. The church generally shies away from a theology of suffering, especially the Protestant church. We do not teach on sickness, disability, illness, healing or suffering anywhere near enough in my view. Nor do we understand the value of perseverance and faithfulness in prayer.

Consequently, people latch on to some very odd ideas and are buying into the belief that because God is good and wants us all well (I agree) then he must want us well now whilst we are being prayed for, and so if nothing happens, it cannot be God’s fault or will, it cannot be the person praying’s fault, it must be yours. On top of your physical or mental or emotional suffering (usually illness and disability contain all three of course, since we are holistic beings) we have lots of lovely guilt piled on top too.

But there are some good doctors, some godly doctors, some wise preachers and healers, who know that things can take time, that patience, compassion, listening, forbearance, endurance, persevering prayer and empathy are tools of the kingdom. I had one GP be unfailingly kind, though he admitted he did not know how to help me. That honesty and belief was very precious, and my current GP is also sympathetic, though apart from blood tests every few years, till more research is done, there is not really any help available. But as Job discovered, it is loving encounter which is more healing than theology and half-baked theories.

A Carmelite Priory I occasionally stay at when well enough has a special Day of Celebration sharing in the Gifts of People with Disabilities today, with creative workshops, sensory prayer and Mass. And in August they will also have a Pilgrimage of the Sick with the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes. That seems like a pretty healthy (pun intended) balance of things. We celebrate the things that suffering brings whilst at the same time acknowledging that prayer for healing is a good thing. It is not that we do not expect answers, or indeed miracles, but that we live out a theology (an orthopraxy if you like) of trust and acceptance. Those of us who await healing (whether in this life or the next) are limbic people, and we have a lot to give and a lot to share and say, if anyone finds themselves able to listen.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay, candles at Lourdes

76: Wanting to Die (Trigger Warning)

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I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

In my own experience, determining to end your own life is such a traumatic place to be that it does not last long. You either take action, or some level of hope or love intervenes so you don’t go through with it. Having made the decision one way or another for sure is in itself fairly liberating. But choosing life is a big and brave thing to do. It means that you decide to carry on knowing that it is going to be painful, and this is incredibly tough.

Most people who go the other way and fail in their attempts are glad to fail, and frequently see life as gift from then on, but having deep compassion on souls whichever way they go having reached rock bottom, is really important. Knowing what it feels like to want to end everything, I have nothing but empathetic heartbreak for those in that position, and do not presume to judge.

I do counsel continuing because I have faith. Not that life will miraculously turn around and be suddenly wonderful, but that time is indeed, however worn out the cliché, a great healer, and the smallest amount of love, when you are able to either give or receive it, can make life worth living again, in, through and despite any other pain.

In my own life, it was, strangely, the numbness and emptiness I felt at that “now or never” point that made me stay. I was free in that moment to make my own decision. Angry at God for not coming to my rescue, I found that he was trusting me to choose life for myself. And I’m very glad that I did. One of the things that brought me back from that precipice was knowing that I couldn’t hurt my parents like that. Because of course, every untimely death has other victims, and the nightmare of the “what if?s” and the “If only we’d s” will likely plague those who love us for a very long time to come.

But after that decision is made, the really hard work begins. Discounting suicide, we may then have to come to terms for quite a while with living even though we feel like we want to die. We feel hopeless and disconnected to life, cut off from joy and completely unable to see any viable or worthwhile future. It is incredibly tough. This kind of overwhelming depression can last many years, as it did for me, and it is usually healed by small degrees. But take heart my friends, because it IS healed. God may not arrive in a thunderstorm as he did in the face of Job’s utter hopelessness, but he will arrive if we ask him to, and he may be so gentle with us that we do not even realise he is there for a long time. But I am quite sure that he was for me. Every buttercup that summer was a bright sign of his love, and every worried look from anxious parents a mirroring of his care.

When we are broken at the core, the work of holy restoration takes into account our fragility, and takes its own sweet and kind time. Meanwhile, we breathe in and out and we pray, and we hold on to anything around us that is good, knowing that this is of God. I have been rescued by inches, as if pulled slowly from quicksand, and the ground feels a little more solid now, enough to share these things with you, and to know that I am, as we all are, loved beyond measure.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

 

Photo from Pixabay

75: Suicidal (Trigger Warning)

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When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey, went to his hometown, set his affairs in order, and hanged himself. He died there and was buried in the family tomb.” 2 Samuel 17:23 NLT

I hate my life and don’t want to go on living. Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days.” Job 7:16 NLT

There are few actual suicides mentioned in the Bible, Judas Iscariot’s probably being the most well-known, and even that differing between gospel accounts. But there are a lot of times where people talk about wanting to die, as Job does here after his description of his horrible suffering that we looked at part of yesterday.

There is a huge difference of course between feeling like you want to die and actually wanting to kill yourself. The first is a very common experience, for we all have times where we just don’t see the point of carrying on, or we think everyone (including ourselves) would have been better off if we’d never been born. The former comes largely out of great suffering and an acknowledging of pity for oneself. The second is what happens when we not only lose our hope entirely, but also cross over a threshold of emotional and mental distress that makes life unbearable and death the only way we can see of ending the pain.

Because this is such a hugely difficult subject I shall devote tomorrow to it as well, I think with more on my personal experience. Having been in both places thankfully without carrying it through, and having been brought back again from the edge by love and hope, I can perhaps say one or two helpful things. Of course many times it is tragedy or loss that brings us to this point, but I think that the main things that drives us to a place of actually wanting to take our own lives are a complete absence of hope and a sense of failure and shame.

In a lot of societies, it has been considered a less shameful act to “fall on your sword” when you are dishonoured, than to continue, and this seems to be the case with Ahithophel above. But there is nothing honourable about taking any life. I feel that if we came together as a society that did not engender so much shame, that talked openly about failures and how they can teach us, and if we taught that hope can be reborn from the most forlorn looking embers, then suicides would decrease. We often hear the quote about treating both success and failure the same as the imposters they are, but this is not the message that is constantly whirling about us in the media and the ethos of capitalism and the supposed meritocracies of the west.

And yet, there are very few stories of great success that did not first pass through great failures. Many great entrepreneurs had to climb out of poverty and bankruptcy, often more than once, as we already discussed. Likewise, faith needs to pass first through the dark night of the soul (again often more than once) before it becomes great. Perhaps if we embraced the understanding that failures, wounds and heartbreaks cannot only be overcome in time (even if they never completely heal), but can also teach us a great deal along the way, we might become a healthier, happier society, and be less devastated and ashamed when terrible things happen or perceived failures come.

And if we were treated with more compassion, understanding and above all, patience, when at our lowest ebbs, there would be more chance of love and hope finding a way through to redeem our shattered lives when we feel they are no longer worth living. Our own dear saviour, after all, thought his wounds worth retaining in his resurrected body.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

If you are feeling suicidal or just finding it all too much, please do ring the Samaritans in the UK on their free to call number: 116 123   They are fantastic listeners and there for you if you are having a tough time. You can also email or write, check out their website here http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

74: Night Terrors (trauma trigger warning)

 

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When I think my bed will comfort me and my couch will ease my complaint, even then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I prefer strangling and death, rather than this body of mine.” Job 7: 13-15 NIV

Given that Job had been through a set of traumatic losses, it is perhaps no wonder that he began to exhibit the symptoms of what we might well recognise today as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Two of the worst parts of this distressing condition are the reliving of the trauma, like a waking nightmare, and what we call night terrors, which are horrifically realistic nightmares, of such power that shake and scream in your sleep. In a bad phase, getting any real rest, let alone refreshing sleep, is nigh on impossible. I can’t help but feel this is what Job is describing here, it sounds so similar.

In any case, there is no rest from the horror of what he has been through. We might think he is mistaken in attributing this part of his suffering to his body, as it seems a straightforwardly mental disorder, but this is not the case. More and more we are finding that the body holds the memory of traumatic events and replays them, reacting in fight or flight modes. An episode triggered by a memory (this can be anything, even a song, a phrase, sound or taste that has some kind of connection to whatever happened to us) is intensely physical as well as emotional and mental. Trauma sufferers experience their pain holistically and it is one of the reasons it is so horrendous.

Another effect of great suffering and loss is that we lose our hope. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope,” says Job, “…and my eyes will never see happiness again.” (Job 7: 6-7 partial NIV). Thankfully as we read Job’s story, we find that it does have a happy ending, since the second half of his life is doubly blessed and he receives a great deal more than he ever did before. But, perhaps tellingly, there is no mention of healing. I personally believe that Job’s wholeness is restored by and in his encounter with the Living God. Such an encounter, which chooses to meet us where we are without answering our myriad of questions; which chooses to show us the great I AM in all the Lord’s glory (and therefore goodness), is powerful beyond all measure and redeems all our suffering, perhaps just as much by a healing of our perspective as of our wholeness as physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beings.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from morguefile

If you or someone you love is affected by PTSD do check out the help available via your medical practitioner/GP  Here is a useful link: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/#.V2P6m8vSnIU

43: Trouble

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Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7 NIV

Trouble sometimes takes a while to brew, we can almost feel it gradually rising, like the opposite of a flower coming into bloom. We steel ourselves perhaps, and try to prepare and protect ourselves. But there are other times when it comes upon us very suddenly, like a thief in the night, with no warning. We are hit whilst we are vulnerable, unprepared and shocked.

Bereavements, losses, betrayals, these can all be either long awaited, or horribly sudden. I am struck that these ways resemble the two biblical views of time: Kairos and chronos. Chronos is the seasonal, temporal, cyclical way of time, and Kairos is the sudden happening, the miracle “chance” meeting or opportunity. The flip side is that misfortune seems to work the same way, either building to a horrible nadir instead of a climax, or wrecking our lives in moments.

And whilst this is one of the incredibly positive and helpful comments made by another one of Job’s “friends”, Eliphaz, (seriously, you don’t want these guys anywhere near you when you are suffering), trouble is indeed pretty inevitable in this life. Chronos trouble we can kid ourselves about. We can believe we are getting prepared for a loved one to die, or a house to get repossessed, a business to fail or a child’s marriage to disintegrate, but in reality, when that wall crumbles, so shall we. Grief comes in so many shapes and sizes and I don’t care what the self-help guides and flow charts tell you, none of it is predictable. The only sure thing is, it’s going to hurt, and then some. And the Kairos pain, that feels like one of Wile E. Coyote’s anvils falling out of the sky? Yep, that’s going to hurt too. And both the trouble and the pain are pretty much inescapable.

So what do we do? Can we wall ourselves up against life, against the world? Well, we can try, but we’ll most likely end up trapped by our own fear and crippled by our own defence system. Really the best thing to do is to pray, and to live. Frankly, during some parts of life, getting through a day and still being able to breathe in and out at the end of it is a heroic and major achievement. But won’t God help us? Yes of course, and his companionship and his total understanding of suffering, grief and broken-heartedness will be invaluable. But whilst some problems can be avoided by asking for the Lord’s protection and grace, most of the time he will go through the trouble and the pain with us, not guide us around it. Because trouble and pain are crucial to the meaning of life we were talking about yesterday. If they weren’t, we’d be in heaven already. We learn to live with the cracks in our hearts and the holes in our memories and the pains in our bodies, and the loss in our souls. These are the deep dark places where hope springs eternal, and where grace creates a garden of beauty against a background of pain. This is where truth lives and angels abound.

 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from morguefile.com

40: Put it Away!

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if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. 16You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” Job 11:14-16 NIV

So here is some of the rest of Zophar’s speech to Job, who is sitting, sick, boil-covered and grief-stricken on the dungheap of terrible suffering. Zophar’s logic is that Job couldn’t possibly be suffering this much as an innocent, he must have done or be doing something terrible. As soon as he turns from his wicked ways and repents, everything will suddenly go right with his life.

Sadly, this is still a nonsense that gets thrown around at the sick and the hurting today in church. I know, because I’ve had this boomerang hurled at me enough times. Put the sin away from yourself and suddenly all will be well. Well I say, put that self-righteous, ignorance away and I might be more inclined to listen to you!

Of course habitual sin is bad for us, and of course no-one is without sin. But when Jesus’ disciples see a blind man begging at the roadside, and ask, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus treats the question as the nonsense it is. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 NIV To the Lord, every piece of suffering is an opportunity to put things right. It is an opening for grace to be encountered, not a time to talk of blame or sin. God answers Job’s suffering with encounter, and Jesus does the same with the man born blind. Encounter for this man brings healing, but it also (maybe even more importantly) allows this man to become an evangelist. He turns out to be a very vocal and courageous supporter of the gospel, defying the leaders of the synagogue and even his own parents to tell the truth about Jesus.

I don’t pretend to know a great deal about healing, it’s a very complicated subject often, but I believe that with God, encounter and healing are always about wholeness. God doesn’t deal with us in bits, the way that our modern medical systems are geared to do. If God heals you physically, he will most likely heal your purpose and your being, and I think this is why he says to so many that he heals, “Your sins are forgiven you,” not because it was their sin causing the harm, though sometimes holding in hurts can cause us great bodily, mental and emotional grief, but because the transformational work he does treats us as entire, complex and spiritual beings.

In any case, most of us who are genuinely seeking God, like Job, and hopefully those of us in church, find one of the toughest things to do is forgiving ourselves (hence perhaps Jesus’ reassurance), we really don’t need any help looking for inner or “hidden” sins. If you are sick a long time, believe me, you’ve done a lot of soul searching already.

Equating sin with punishment in this life is to not understand the grace and the goodness of God. The Lord is all compassion and mercy and loving kindness. The greatest barrier and the greatest help to healing in the gospels is faith or lack of it, and usually this is the faith of the person or people praying for the sick, as it is also in James’ letter. We are scripturally more at liberty to blame our intercessors when healing doesn’t come, rather than those being prayed for. But blame in all its forms is to rather miss the point. Zophar and the rest of Job’s “friends” do this rather spectacularly. Suffering that presents an opportunity for God to be given glory is just not on their radar. I wonder if it is on ours?

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Artwork “Put it Away!” by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

39: Witless

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But the witless can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human.” Job 11:12 NIV

Here is a verse that seems rather hopeless. Change is not possible, then, nor education? But we need to look at who is speaking here, for it is not God. Time and time again we see the habit of prooftexting, a tool of the witless if ever there was one, when, solely in order to prove their point, a person lifts a verse out of context without thought or consideration. The Bible is a collection of holy books, alive by the working of the Holy Spirit, and yes, it is in many ways the Word of God. But it is also the history of humanity’s relationship with the Lord and so also contains our own falseness, stupidity and wickedness. This particular verse is spoken by Zophar, one of Job’s annoying, self-righteous friends.

More on the folly of his speech tomorrow. Zophar so good (sorry couldn’t resist that one). For now we are focussing on this verse which tells us that a leopard cannot change its spots, and a fool must always remain so. We might be tempted to say that under the Old Testament and its set in stone legalism, this was most likely believed. But how then did Solomon become more and more wise if we are born with such traits? And is a fool always a fool? And in any case, isn’t there a difference between intelligence and wisdom?

James tells us in his letter that if we don’t have wisdom it is because we haven’t asked for it. Solomon was asked by God what gift he wanted, and he chose wisdom, proving perhaps that it was something he already had. And as the rules of God’s kingdom go, when you have the capacity already for a spiritual richness, more and more can be given to you, if your motives are right and your heart belongs to the Lord. But we can also ask for and be granted things which we do not have at all in the earthly. And brainpower is rather different from understanding, if you ask me, as often the most intelligent people are the most likely to refute the existence of God. (More about my thoughts on this can be found on my Golden Apples blog, here )

Zophar would have us all predestined to our fates, unable to change or learn, and yet then goes on to proclaim the changes God could make in Job’s life if only he will repent. Seeing God work, we know that transformation is possible in everything. It can take a very long time. It can be painful. Did you know that a caterpillar in a cocoon or chrysalis has to totally dissolve in order to become a butterfly or moth, apart from its wings, which are already waiting inside? Sometimes it feels like God is turning us inside out. I can testify to that! But if we have given over ourselves in prayer, even our foolishness can be turned into wisdom. Prayer, relationship with God, is always the catalyst for change. We have already seen on this year’s blogging journey, that a drowning prophet can be rescued and in turn rescue a whole city, that a zealous religious persecutor can end up dying for the very church he wanted to destroy, and that the Lord delights in turning things upside down. We should rule nothing out with our small thinking. Any leopard who gives her spots to the Lord as part of her living sacrifice, may well end up stripy!

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from morguefile.com

38: Untameable

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Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

     2“Who is this that darkens counsel

           By words without knowledge?

     3“Now gird up your loins like a man,

           And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!” Job 38:1-3 NASB

 

We serve a wild God. From the depths of our suffering we might call out to him like Job only to have him visit us in a tornado, showing us who he is and demanding to know who we think we are! This is deeply uncomfortable for our egos to handle. We want a predictable God, one we can put in a box so we can keep him there. It goes against our hardwired longings for control to think that God might have loftier thoughts than we do, that he might be greater than we have the capacity to imagine, that he might even encompass she as much as he, for example.

But one tiny photo taken by the Hubble telescope must convince us that our God is pretty big, and pretty wild. To create spiralling swirls of stars and stir them into galaxies, takes an astrophysicist and artist with knowledge and heart far greater than we can even begin to fathom.

When we decide to serve this great God, we have to know that we don’t know what we are letting ourselves in for. We have no idea what he might do with our puny lives. People with any sense will be scared by this, for the fear of the Lord, as Proverbs and the Psalms tell us, is the beginning of wisdom. But they will also have some clue that as well as being enormously, unknowably great and wild, the Living God is also good, constant and trustworthy. Every atom, every molecule, every flower, every beetle, every sunset and every smile tells us that beauty, truth and order are also at work in creation.

In this way, the Lord is far from unpredictable. Indeed, although we cannot know what he will do or say, or how or when, we CAN know that it will serve his ends and that they will be good ends. In other words, we can trust God to always do the right thing, and to act out of his great wisdom, goodness and loving kindness. That is who he is and in his character, he never changes.

Once comprehended, this leaves us in the realms of grace, able to allow God into every part of our lives. Once the goodness of the Lord has been taken on trust, tasted and seen that it is good, encountered, known a little in the feebleness of our kinds of knowing, there is no room for fear, even of the unknown. This is why encounter with the presence of God leaves Job satisfied, despite having seemingly had none of his questions answered. They were in fact, all answered, simply by the knowing of who God is. Wild, wonderful, beautiful, stunning, limitless, eternal, inconceivable, creative love.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

photo from Morguefile

22: Target Practice

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Will you never look away from me,

or let me alone even for an instant?

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,

you who see everything we do?

Why have you made me your target?

Have I become a burden to you?” Job 7: 19-20 NIV

 

When Job speaks these words he is beyond rock bottom. He’s had everything suddenly taken away from him: his children; servants; livestock; livelihood; reputation; health. He has nothing left but his God, so he speaks out his anguish. The truly amazing thing about Job is that he never curses the Lord, despite even his wife advising him to. He only asks why, because the wisdom that has been handed down to him says that disaster has befallen him as a punishment, and yet he knows that he has not sinned. Even the religion that he has practiced all his days is no comfort to him, it makes no sense in the face of his huge suffering. All he has left is what he knows in his heart, that God must be good.

He is hurting and broken and sick, and wants to be left alone. He wants God to avert his eyes and let him die. No wonder he feels that God is using him for target practice. He wants the pain to end, he wants to crawl into a hole and be done with life.

As with Micah yesterday, I want to point out that this is not self pity. It is a normal, reasonable, grief-stricken reaction from Job to what is happening to him. It should pull at all the heartstrings of our compassion and make us want to come and sit silently on his dung heap with him and help him keep the vigil of tears and outrage and broken-heartedness. Instead of which of course, Job is visited by friends who do not know the value of silence or understand his suffering. More on that another day.

The feeling of being targeted is a horrible one. We can be targets for bullying, insults, mockery, lies, abuse, perjury, theft and assaults of all kinds. When these things happen we too might want to crawl away and hide, even from the eyes of God. But as the psalmist tells us (Psalm 139), and as God declares to Jeremiah, there is nowhere where this is possible. “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 23:24 NIV)

The answer to Job’s first question is that God will not leave him alone. God never leaves us alone or turns his eyes away, despite all the times it might feel this way. The difference between wanting to hide from God and wanting to be his dwelling place is really one of trust. None of Job’s questions are answered the way he (and we) want them to be. For the answer is not theology, not a detailed explanation of why suffering exists or why it is visited on some of us in bucketloads, nor does God present Job with a neatly packaged understanding of his own life and its errors and hardships. No, God’s answer is not explanation, but encounter. He shows Job who he is. It is, perhaps strangely to us, all he needs. It makes sense to me that seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s majestic goodness leaves us able to trust him, and live without those reasoned, helpful answers that we long for. God’s presence is overwhelmingly enough and more, and it shows Job that he is a target only for the love, faithfulness and mystery of God and his holiness.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Cartoon by Gary Larson, which I had to use, as it fits so well, but I’ve no idea where to apply for permission, since his work is so successful all over the net, I will hope to be forgiven this once. If you haven’t come across him, do check out his work, he is my favourite cartoonist ever. 🙂