Read Part 2
Read Part 3
For all the true good confession and the other sacraments brought me, there was still one big problem: I was still covered in darkness where my relationship with God was concerned. He still felt remarkably absent. When I imagined Him with me, I saw Him sitting in a corner curled in on himself like a comma, holding his elbows, looking down. Present, but not engaged. Aware, but not acting. Hearing, but not answering.
This continued on for months and months: through my early days of grieving, through going back to work, through James coming to Florida three months ahead of me, through learning we were expecting our second child. So I kept praying; I continued to go to confession and I knew I could always find Him in the Eucharist. These weren't small things, I knew -- objectively, they provided me with the communion I knew I needed. But I still felt the loss of Him.
When James and I were separated by some 3,000 miles -- him beginning a brand new job in Florida, me wrapping up my eleven-year career in telecommunications and our life and home in Seattle -- people told us that a three months separation "wasn't that bad" and that it would "go by quickly." It was easy to say when they weren't the ones suffering the separation. Yes, I was still married. James was still my husband and I was still his wife. We Skyped, we talked on the phone, and took advantage of those means available to us to stay in communication. But we lacked the experience of intimacy that we had enjoyed through our entire marriage up until that point. I don't care how much we spoke on the phone or saw each other's faces via webcam: it was not the same thing -- not even close.
My relationship with God felt so much the same way during this period of silence: like we were a married couple separated by too many miles, but with no end in sight to the separation. I might still be God's child, and He might still be my Father, but I felt a million miles between us. I lacked the experience of intimacy we had once enjoyed. He never reached out and touched, He never offered His arms even when I begged for them. My feelings suffered. It was not the intimacy we once enjoyed -- it was not even close.
One night not all that long ago, it reached a boiling point. It had been over a year since this divine silence had started and I was talking to James about how all of this felt. The floodgates opened and I let loose all my pent up feelings without the least care to edit them. I'M SO SICK OF THIS!! WHERE THE F*** IS HE?? I screamed. My face was flushed and I clenched my fists against the side of my head, pulling at my hair. I kept swallowing back the same large painful and bitter lump. Searing hot tears sprung into my eyes. I MEAN, SERIOUSLY -- WHAT THE HELL DOES HE WANT FROM ME?!
There were no answers waiting for me on the other side of that question -- not even difficult ones.
I had remembered that during another dark season of my life, I had turned to the book of Job. Though he is patient both with God in His silence and the friends who would have done better to remain silent in the ashes with him rather than postulate as to the many things for which God might be punishing him, Job reaches his breaking point, too. He's had enough and he wants an answer. And who can blame him? After losing all his property, possessions, and his entire family, God has remained completely silent. If he's not being punished and he hasn't cursed God, turning his back on Him like the devil had tempted him to do, then what gives? What's the point in God permitting Job's suffering to extend so far as it has?
It is about the point when we're all really getting tired of the friends insisting on Job's sin and with Job countering their claims in insisting on his rightness that Elihu shows up and (finally) injects some sanity and wisdom into the scene. His answers don't come neatly packaged, and while as answers they are true, they aren't terribly satisfying. What it really boils down to is that as good a guy as Job is (and he is!), he isn't perfect. And because God loves Job, He cares about sparing his life from what Elihu refers to as "the Pit."
Read Elihu's words:
"In a dream, in a vision of the night,And again ...
when deep sleep falls on mortals,
while they slumber on their beds,
then [God] opens their ears,
and terrifies them with warnings,
that he may turn them aside from their deeds,
and keep them from pride,
to spare their souls from the Pit,
their lives from traversing the River.
"God indeed does all these things,
twice, three times, with mortals.,
to bring back their souls from the Pit,
so that they may see the light of life."
(Job 33:15-18, 29, 30)
"He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
but with kings on the throne
he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
And if they are bound in fetters
and caught in the cords of affliction,
then he declares to them their work
and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
He opens their ears to instruction,
and commands that they return from iniquity.
If they listen, and serve him,
they complete their days in prosperity,
and their years in pleasantness.
But if they do not listen, they shall perish by the sword,
and die without knowledge.
The godless in heart cherish anger;
they do not cry for help when he binds them.
They die in their youth,
and their life ends in shame.
He delivers the afflicted by their affliction,
and opens their ear by adversity.
(Job 36:7-15, emphasis mine)
It is God who, in the opening pages of the book of Job, affirms Job's righteousness (1:8, 2:3). Elihu here says that even the righteous have transgressions and sins -- that even they need instruction and to "turn from iniquity." So really, neither Job nor his friends were entirely right -- but they weren't entirely wrong, either. While Job wasn't without fault, it wasn't the case that God was punishing him. God was, in fact, doing the most loving thing in weeding out any further iniquity and pride in the man He affirmed to be "blameless and upright."
The phrase that hit me over the head like a mallet was "He delivers the afflicted by their affliction." Think of it: suffering is not the thing from which Job needs to be delivered. Rather, suffering is the means of deliverance: from sin, from the pit of hell. God wants Job to be truly holy, to keep him from going to the place to which unholiness leads.
God wants Job to be holy because He loves him.
Well, then. That was interesting. That was very interesting, indeed. It wasn't at all what I was looking for, but it was a point of much-needed light.
To Be Continued & Concluded in Part 5