I thought that I had God figured out. I was pious, I was careful, and I made sure that every ‘I’ of my life was dotted, and every ‘t’ was crossed. And not just my own life: I interceded for my children and made sacrifices on their behalf, lest, in their unwitting youth, they offend that same righteous God who once sent a flood out over all the world in His anger at human sin. When I look back now, there must have been moments, probably very frequent moments, when my fussiness and pedantry drove my family crazy. My name was a byword in the community for meticulous godliness and righteousness. And the truly shocking thing was that, when calamity came, it didn’t help me one little bit.
Has anyone else lived through such a day? I have a feeling that, in years to come, my name will be a byword for suffering – and that was certainly not how I intended it to be. One after the other, before the messengers had time to even draw breath, I learned that, in a series of horrific events, I had lost my oxen, my donkeys, my sheep, my camels, and many of my faithful servants. Finally, and most dreadful of all, all 10 of my children died at once when the house collapsed on top of them!
I was devastated. How could such things happen to me when I had always been so careful? I tore my robe, I shaved my head, and I sat down in the dust of despair. Even then, in my wretchedness, I was careful not to sin with my tongue, and piously offered worship to the God who had brought me so low. But torment was not finished with me yet. Days later the pain of my life was compounded by the pain of my body, and I broke out in disgusting sores from head to toe. Truly my life was sheer misery. I continued to proclaim God’s righteousness (and my own), but all was darkness and horror to me.
And my friends stopped believing me. If I was suffering so much, mustn’t there be something I was being punished for? Shouldn’t I simply confess my dark sin and be reconciled to God? In all fairness, I would probably have believed the same thing myself once. But now I was in a place where my theology fell short, and my heart became a desperate plea to God for my vindication. The most unbearable part of my pain was the silence of God in the face of this vast injustice.
But God did not remain silent, and when he spoke it was like a mighty rushing wind overturned all the neat constructions of my mind, blew them all into chaos, and then his glory shone in through the holes and dazzled and overwhelmed me. How can my minuscule wisdom stand against the one who sings through the beauty of the stars and created strange and marvelous creatures for his own good pleasure? My knowledge was ignorance, and my understanding more futile than that of the brute beasts. He was not a God who could be contained by the structures of my own righteousness, beyond my neat patterns he was burning love and holy light. He was not answerable to me, and owed me nothing, and yet he came to me, and in his coming I repented of my former small-mindedness, as a desert-dweller repents of his knowledge of water when he first beholds the ocean. The deepest reconciliation possible comes when our falsehoods are overrun by truth and our hearts are broken into joy.
And if all this were not enough, and more than enough, he then restored every blessing that had been taken from me.