Monday, April 14, 2014

Suffering Prayer: Does it Cross the Line?

We’re familiar with the story of Job. There’s a heavenly wager between God and Satan, of which Job is ignorant, regarding the motivation of Job's worship of God, and whether or not it is truly authentic. As Job is minding his own business, everything he owns is taken, including his family and health. The remainder of the book follows with dialogue between Job and his friends, as well as between Job and God.

Read one of the prayers of Job after his friends once again fail to properly hear his suffering…

“…Surely now God has worn me out; he has made desolate all my company. And he has shriveled me up, which is a witness against me… He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me... God gives me up to the ungodly, and casts me into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, and he broke me asunder; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
he set me up as his target, his archers surround me.
He slashes open my kidneys, and does not spare; he pours out my gall on the ground. He breaks me with breach upon breach; he runs upon me like a warrior. I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin, and have laid my strength in the dust. My face is red with weeping, and on my eyelids is deep darkness; although there is no violence in my hands,
and my prayer is pure.”    ~ Job 16:1-22 (excerpt)

Directness is not a characteristic Job lacks. But did he go too far in how he expressed himself to God? Perhaps we withhold words from God, because we believe them to be unwholesome, or perhaps reflect a rebellious attitude, or even hatred toward God. I don’t believe any of us are strangers to what Job is expressing in this prayer, and his voice might even resonate with exactly what we are feeling, or have felt at one time.

Too far? Well, Job claims that his prayer is pure.

Maybe someone close to you listened to you voice your pain and questions, and perhaps like Job’s friends they tried, with good intentions, to play the role of savior, or counselor. They might have even judged or condemned your “rebellious” approach to prayer and the holiness of God, leaving you confused as to how you should (if you should) express your honest thoughts to God.

I agree with Pierre Wolff in his book, May I Hate God?*, and believe that Job’s prayer speaks deeply to who God is, and who we are in relation to Him. When we express harsh feelings, grief, hatred, and sorrow, it presupposes trust and love. But how?

When we trust God, we are able to freely express our grief. By expressing ourselves, we believe He’s able to take it; that with Him, we can reveal ourselves as we really are.

If our words/prayers are accepted, then love is present. The risk we take in expressing ourselves to God is proportionate to the love we believe is there, and we risk because we believe love is able to save.

So, this kind of expression is actually a desire for reconciliation and healing. Healing for our selves of course, but...

It also happens to be the cry of God’s voice to the world for healing. It seems as if we are revolting against God with our “whys”, when the “whys” we direct toward Him are really (or also) expressions of His revolt. Instead of us accusing God, God is sorrowfully questioning the world through us.
  • Why do you distort my creation?
  • Why do you exploit and hate each other?
  • Why do you continue to forsake My Way, when I promised eternal life?
  • Why do you commune with every sinful attraction, rather than my eternal love?

It’s not whether our words are right or wrong, good or bad, but whether we love our Father enough to tell Him everything, whether we believe in the immensity of His love which can understand any kind or level of sorrow.

So what does Job’s suffering prayer tell us?

It speaks of the immensity of God’s love, and the Resurrection power of Christ. God accepts our words, and so Love is present. And when we acknowledge He is still alive and present in our lives, this is the power of the Resurrection. And through this Love and Resurrection life, we find healing; still wounded, but transformed. And because we have mourned, and experienced God’s love through it, we are better able to comfort others with the same compassion we received from God.

Job trusted God, and knew God. He knew God was Love, He knew Love was present, and whether or not what Job lost was restored (the story happens to end with him being restored) communion with God was present, because where there is compassion, there is communion. Job found consolation – not from his friends, but by being brutally honest, and trusting the God who is not always apparent, but is always and everywhere present.

* May I Hate God? by Pierre Wolff; Paulist Press, 1979.

Image: Illumination of Job from the Syriac Bible


Anonymous said...

This is a very comforting post..thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank your for this very insightful look at Job's life and attitude during his dark night of the soul. You have taken God out of the religious box we sometimes keep Him in!