Death can challenge the very foundations of one’s life. Assumptions about the nature of God (if you believe in God) and how life is supposed to operate can be shaken in the face of death. And death has the unique ability to refine the faith of persons willing to take up the task of reviewing and discarding assumptions that stand in the way of a healthy and growing faith.
The Biblical book of Job is one such model of faith transforming in the face of unspeakable loss. Job and his wife suffer the unspeakable: the loss of property and health, and the deaths of all their children. With each assault, Job held firm to the goodness of God and his integrity before God, until the final assault, the attack on his own health, left him in despair and misery. Job’s wife responded in anger, asking Job to simply “curse God and die.” He responded in despair, cursing the day of his birth and wishing he was never born.
We’ve all been there – angry at our circumstances or depressed beyond belief. Grief does that to a person. The platitudes of Job’s friends only added insult to injury as they tried to interpret the situation to bring understanding to that which cannot be understood. I can’t help but think that they probably meant well, and their own faith was challenged as their own assumptions on how the world should function were challenged by the suffering of their friend. Their words still burned and no doubt haunted Job and his wife.
I’ve always appreciated Job. In the face of his extensive grief, loss and misery, he fired all his thoughts and feelings right back at God. He rages at the unfairness of his treatment, declaring himself to be a good person, despite the accusations and religious rationalizations of his “friends.” I’m glad God can handle that. In the end, Job doesn’t get the answers he seeks. Instead, he gets a vision of a God who is bigger than he is, bigger than his questions, and big enough to walk with Job in the midst of Job’s circumstances.
That’s the journey of faith in the midst of grief. Job cried out in the face of pain and in the face of the unfairness of it all. He cried out in his loneliness and isolation. He cried out in frustration when he felt misunderstood. He cried out to God and journeyed through darkness to a renewed and sharper place of faith.
When you feel alone, when you feel abandoned by God, when you aren’t even sure you still believe in God, I encourage you to continue in your struggle, to ask questions, to listen and to wait. You will be different at the end of your journey, with a faith that stands much more substantial.