We all face them – tough times. Some more than others. It’s only a matter of time before life falls apart. The loss of a job, a diagnosis of cancer, an unfaithful spouse, abuse from a leader, the betrayal of a dear friend. It doesn’t matter how suburban our lives are at the moment, if we haven’t already, we will all come face-to-face with the tragic. Suffering is the common human experience; our ability to relate to each other’s grief and lament binds us together. The Old Testament character of Job – the man who loses everything – isn’t a person to pity. We are Job.
Of course most of us would rather not be Job. We’d prefer a more triumphant character to identify with. Perhaps David who, despite some significant sin, is still heralded as a man after God’s own heart. Maybe out of humility we choose a lesser known character, like Gideon. A little afraid. A little timid. But ultimately one who rises to the challenge. Job tends to be the last person we want to align ourselves with. Identifying with Job means one thing: We know suffering.
Too often, faith and suffering are linked in a cause-and-effect relationship. In some circles, suffering is seen as the effect caused by a lack of faith. Or, faith is the cause that gets us out of suffering. Or at the very least, faith re-orients our perspective towards suffering. In either case, the implicit message is the same: Faith is necessary to make it through the moments when life falls apart.
But how do you know if you have enough faith to make it through the arduous journey unfolding before you?
The truth is, you cannot know how wide and deep your faith runs until life falls apart. We have every reason to place faith in a good and loving God when life is #blessed. We have every reason to trust God’s goodness when our marriage is intimate, our bank accounts full, our health present, and our kids flourishing. Yet our faith is left untested during these times. It’s easy to believe God is in control when life is full of joy. It’s when the semi-charmed sheen rubs off our suburban lives that we begin asking the questions. Doubts creep in from the back our mind when the medical bills stack up. Feelings of abandonment gnaw at us when our child lies in the hospital bed. When the doctor declares there is nothing else they can do for our loved one it can feel as though our faith is too weak to sustain us.
Job is often a case study for what it looks like to have faith during difficult times. When Job’s wife encourages him to “curse God and die,” Job resists and counters his wife’s advice with a stoic response. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” This response is exalted as the faith necessary to withstand suffering. This is unshakeable faith, we are told. It is steadfast despite one’s circumstances. It accepts all life will through at us – good, bad, joyous, painful, surprising, tragic – with quiet acquiescence to God’s will.
A closer reading of Job’s story reveals that it would be lazy to assert that faith, as evidenced by Job’s question, is a passive acceptance of tragedy. Job’s faith was anything but stoic or passive. It was full of complaints, accusations, demands, and even self-righteous boasts. Job took the full brunt of his grief and pain to the feet of God and demanded God hear his complaint. At one point Job adamantly states, “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” (Job 30:20). In the tradition of the psalms of lament, Job’s faith holds God responsible for his situation.
In light of this, then, the question we ought to ask isn’t “Do I have enough faith?” but “Do I have the right kind of faith?”By that I mean, “Do I have the faith that brings all of who I am and all of what I am going through to all of who God is?”Do I have the kind of faith that Job had? Faith that doesn’t curse God, but also doesn’t let God off the hook. After all, if God is sovereign and omnipotent, then God could have held back the tragedy or could immediately rescue me from the pain. That God has not yet fulfilled his promises to rescue us, heal us, bring justice, restore everything that is broken, make all things new, and once-and-for-all defeat evil is God’s divine prerogative. God is responsible for that choice. Because of that, the only place to go with our complaint is to God.
Taking our complaint to God doesn’t show a lack of faith. Instead, it shows a deep trust that God will keep God’s promises. Without this trust, there would be no reason to come to God at all.
Our faith is in the one who promises to wipe away every tear from every eyes as God abolishes pain, suffering, injustice, and death. Our faith is in the one who laments with us. Who knows betrayal, physical pain, and emotional anguish and joined with the tradition of lament. In joining his voice to the psalmist in lament, Jesus gives us permission to cry out to God in similar fashion.
That is real faith that will carry us through whatever situation we must endure.