It was one of the worst episodes I’ve had in recent years. Two years ago, I was severely depressed; I couldn’t write, I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t do anything besides sit at home, listening to the silence, and occasionally breaking it with an outburst of tears.
In part, it was my fault: I’d wanted to go off one of my medicines, and had gotten permission from my doctor to do so. Now I was paying the price for going off my mood stabilizer too abruptly, and at a time of year when I’m most likely to become unstable. I finally knew that I needed to see my psychiatrist and get help. But getting an emergency, last minute type of appointment with a doctor isn’t always easy.
So I sat at the edge of my bed, crying, begging God, please, please, please, let the doctor be able to see me by the next day. I figured it would take a miracle.
I got it. The doctor saw me the next day.
Around this time, the news featured a tragic story about a young girl who was missing. Jessica was her name. She left for school one morning and never made it there. For days, searchers combed the area, searching for clues. It didn’t look good. People prayed for Jessica’s safe return. I prayed for a miracle.
We didn’t get it. Several days after she went missing, her body was found.
I remember reading the news, several days after I had gotten started on yet another medicine, and wondering why didn’t God answer the prayers for Jessica.
Why had I gotten my piddly little miracle and they hadn’t gotten theirs? I remembering telling God, “I would’ve given up my miracle for Jessica’s parents to have their daughter returned to them.” But that wasn’t how it worked out.
And this morning, for some reason, I started thinking about these two events again, and again wondering why God answers some prayers one way, and others in a very different way. Why, for example, was I given another child after several years of secondary infertility, when others pray for a child and never have one? Why is one person cured of cancer and another dies? I don’t know.
The workings of God bewilder me more than I care to admit. It’s uncomfortable, for one thing—it’s unsettling to know that I don’t understand God, even after years of walking with him. Just when I think I understand, that I grasp one fragment of him, something happens and my knowledge is crushed by the circumstances.
I can chalk it all up to the mysterious will of God, quote the myriad of verses to prove the point, and pretend that satisfies me, but it really doesn’t. (Really? It was the will of God for a ten-year-old to be murdered? Why?)
I could decide that it’s all just fate, but I don’t believe that; it doesn’t jive with my personal experiences and beliefs.
I could decide that God doesn’t give a rip, or can’t do anything about the big stuff, or that he doesn’t exist at all, but none of those options work with what I know to be true.
So I’m left with questions.
It’s at this point that most Christians drag in the Book of Job. At the beginning of the book, Satan dares God to give him, Satan, the power to afflict the godly Job, taunting the Almighty that Job will eventually lose his faith in God if the afflictions are bad enough.
One catastrophe after another happens, the losses crashing down on him until all that’s left are him and God. His personal riches, his children, his health: all are gone.
His wife bitterly tells him, “Curse God and die.” (Remember, this woman lost all of her children, too, and she’s facing a devastating future, possibly without her husband. He might die, too. Without a husband or son, how will she survive in a patriarchal society?)
His well-intentioned friends come to comfort him, but their answers to his questions are empty. This, too, is a loss and an added burden.
Job questions God, demands an answer. God answers, but does not give the answer that Job desperately wants. Job is humbled. Eventually, God restores Job’s fortunes, gives him another set of children, and gives us, the readers, a happy ending. Or does he?
Over the years, I’ve heard many discussions of this book. What’s almost always missing is this: Job still must deal with a horrible loss. Forget the money. Forget the livestock. Forget all that.
Think about this:
The man and his wife have lost all their children.
Having more children does not take away that loss. Having more children is bittersweet for such a couple. The joy of a newborn child is tempered by the sorrow that this child has siblings he’ll never know, the pain of mourning other children, and the knowledge that life is fragile: this child, too, could be snatched away in a moment’s time.
What’s more is that Job and his wife never have an explanation for their pain. God never gives them a reason. He gives them more of himself, yes, but they must still walk through the pain.
So is this a happy ending? Why do they still have to struggle through that grief? Why do some have miracles granted to them and others don’t? Why?
Some questions don’t have easy answers. Some questions will have answers only after this life.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ask, even if we have to wrestle with the silence.