Responding to Calamities

Author's note: This post is long, I'm sure, a little rambly and incoherent, and it takes on a bit of a Bible-thumping nature. But it is genuine and writing it has helped me process through some major faith-issues. Many of you know about the struggles we're enduring right now---a recent failed house-selling experience (we "sold" it last week and then our buyer's loan fell through yesterday after we put a deposit down on an apartment), a tumultuous adoption journey, anxiety of starting new jobs. So this morning I found it fitting to read through the book of Job to figure out where to go from this hole of desperation and hopelessness we've fallen into. And after a few hours of reading, I feel pretty convicted that my faith is shallow. I feel like I sometimes give a persona on this space that I am this faithful person who is unshaken in the face of trouble. But as I read about Job and his response to calamities as well as God's response to Job, I realize how surface level my faith is.

Early in the book of Job we read about an encounter between God and Satan where they talk about Job and how blameless he is. Satan then challenges God and says, "'Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God. You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!'" (Job 1:9-11). God responds by allowing Satan to to test Job but draws a line at harming Job physically. Soon Job is hammered by messengers who bring all this bad news: his livestock is stolen and killed, his hired hands destroyed, and all of his children are killed. His response is: "'I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!'" (Job 1: 21) It's always amazed me that Job's first response is to recognize the absolute authority of God and praise Him.

Later on Job's health is afflicted and he's covered with sores. His wife encourages Job to curse God so that he can die and just be put out of his misery. Job is not shaken. He responds to her with, "'You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?'" (Job 2:10).

Eventually Job is overwhelmed and starts asking the question we all ask when crap is thrown at us: Why? Why me? Passionately Job cries out, "'I cry to you, O God, but you don't answer. I stand before you, but you don't even look. You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me. You threw me into the whirlwind and destroy me in the storm...So I looked for good, but evil came instead. I waited for the light, but darkness fell. My heart is troubled and restless. Days of suffering torment me. I walk in gloom, without sunlight...'" (Job 30: 16-22, 26-28). My current state doesn't even touch the depths of Job's suffering, but still, I feel like I can relate to Job's many cries.

Continuing in the book of Job, some of his friends give nuggets of good advice that is buried amongst advice that is irrelevant to Job's situation. His friends all maintain that Job must be suffering because of some past sins he committed---but we know from earlier in the book that God stated Job was a blameless man, so we know that this wisdom is not applicable to Job. Eventually his friend, Elihu, pipes in and in chapter 32 he points out that maybe Job isn't suffering because of some past sin, but maybe Job was sinning in his suffering. Job had become so focused on his trials and on figuring out why God would allow them, that he became a bit self-righteous, like he was above this suffering. In all of this Job forgot that God, the creator of the universe, is good and ordains all things and has vision. Throughout some of these intense life trials Nate and I have endured, my trust in God sometimes is dependent in WHAT He is doing, not in who He is. I become so fixated on figuring out the reason behind these struggles and what I can do to fix them...my focus, then, is on me. Not on God.

Eventually God interjects in Job's situation and for two chapters he hammers Job with a barrage of questions impossible for humans to answer but not impossible for God to answer, in order to humble him and remind him that He is bigger than Job. God concludes with one question: "'Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God's critic, but do you have the answers?'" (Job 40:2) But God must have known Job wasn't quite humbled enough, so He continues his questions for another two chapters. Eventually Job cracks...again. But this time he's really driven to his knees in repentance for his arrogance in questioning God (Job 42: 1-6).

My first inclination in all of my struggles has not been to praise God...and I've found it difficult to truly accept these struggles. Sure, I've been driven to my knees in prayer---but when I reflect on my prayer I feel like it's been selfish in nature. I may have uttered in my prayers that God is sovereign and authoritative and whatever He brings, I'll accept....but in my heart I've added something like a P.S. to my prayers that goes something like this: But God, I really want this baby, or We need for our house to sell. While I think it's alright to ask God for specifics, I think we first have to be okay with trusting God for who He is and not trusting in merely what He can do for us. And in order to get to this point, I think we have to be driven to our knees and made uncomfortable even to the point of pain where we have no other option but to see God for who He is.

Job's story ends with restoration. God blesses Job tenfold, and we are told that Job lives a long, full life. Our stories may not all end with restoration in this lifetime, though. That would be too easy and wouldn't allow for total submission and reliance on God. However---God does promise that He "...causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). We might not see restoration here on earth, but as believers we are guaranteed eternal life. That promise is far sweeter than the blessing of a child, selling my house, or success in my career. That's what I want to chase after with all my being. Today I spent time facedown in prayer confessing my arrogance and self-righteousness to think that I should be immune to trials. I can't do it on my own, but I want to rely on God for who He is and not what blessings He will give me. It's not going to be an easy journey...

1 comment:

Stu said...

I like your discussion on Job. Possibly like you, I suspect that when God and Satan's conversation turns to me, He isn't nearly so complimentary. Maybe that's why I've never cared much for that book of the Old Testament. I'm much more of an Ecclesiastes or Daniel man myself.

I think that is because I always seem to come away from the book of Job with the wrong message. I assume that I'm supposed to be exhorted in faith and restored with submissive acceptance of His perfect plan. Yet I can never get past the fact that Job's world was torn apart over a casual wager between God and Satan rather than a thoughtfully designed "purpose" in life. Certainly He never felt the need to own up to the capriciousness of it all to Job. He didn't bother to explain that none of this was really His idea in the first place; none of Job's original 10 children or servants or anybody else caught up in the mayhem were lucky enough to be "restored" in their lifetimes either. So instead I tend to read this book and pray for more faith to combat the cynicism that seems to immediately follow.

But that's me.

I like to think we live in a country where people like you and your husband can simply get the deposit on your apartment back. Much like the prospective buyers of your home probably didn't forfeit any deposit accompanying their offer when their financing fell through. Again...maybe that's just my wishful thinking.

The last time my wife and I sold our home, we had three contracts fall through for similar reasons. While gut-wrenching, the good news is: if one person has made an acceptable offer on your home, you can be encouraged that other people will too. That's something to take faith in I think.

I admire you and your husband for having the courage to take a chance and make a big change like you are doing: switching jobs and moving to a new home. Lots of folks I know wouldn't be willing to take those sorts of risks. Ever.

Good luck and have a great start to the school year.