I am not sure my faith is as big as Victor Lee Austin, Leonard Cohen, the author of the “Book of Job,” the prophet Jeremiah, the apostle Paul, Jean Pierre de Caussade, or even Terrence Malick.
But, when it comes to suffering and tragedy, they all seem to be saying the same thing. See: https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/leonard-cohen-exonerates-god/
Victor Lee, in an article that was sent to me this morning in “The Wall Street Journal”, wrote two weeks ago about the death of his fifty-seven-year-old wife Susan. Lee explains his wife’s situation saying,
About halfway through our 34-year marriage, doctors discovered my wife Susan’s brain tumor. She had been God’s gift to me, my “heart’s desire,” as the Psalmist says.
Then Lee writes these challenging and incredible words:
Yet over nearly 20 years, through her brain disease, slow decline and eventual death, God took away what he had given. (emphasis added)
Vctor Lee has taken deeply to heart the words of the “Book of Job,” where, in the midst of unimaginable tragedy and suffering, it is reported that
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’(Job 1:21,22)
Job’s suffering was real, more real than I can imagine enduring. Mr. Lee’s loss was overwhelming and unbearable. Yet both Job and Lee were able, even in the midst of tragedy, to affirm heir faith in God.
In the face of the death of his wife, Mr. Austin states,
God gives, and God takes away. But he is still there.
This is the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who, when faced with the certainty of a terrible death in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace declared,
If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.
But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17,18)
This “if not” choice is the faith dimension that stands steady even when things do not turn out the way I might have chosen.
This is the faith of the apostle Paul who even though he was chained in a Roman prison, was able to proclaim,
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. (Philippians 4:11,12)
Paul’s faith was not contingent upon circumstance.
No doubt, Paul did not want to be in prison. It is unlikely that being chained in a Roman prison was a particularly comfortable or pleasant experience. It is likely Paul felt uncertain, probably even afraid of the future. He must have known that he faced an unpleasant death; according to tradition Paul was executed during the reign of the terrifying Emperor Nero. And yet, in the very midst of suffering, anxiety, fear, and pain Paul could say,
I have learned to be content with whatever I have.
Life often brings darkness. The darkness is real and the darkness is difficult. Nowhere does the Bible diminish tehe reality of human suffering. And yet everywhere the Bible challenges me to ask – shall I praise God and give thanks when I am blessed and curse God and sink into despair when those blessings are removed?
The great eighteenth century Jesuit, Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote of God that
He is the all-perfect being, and when we possess him we need nothing else.
This conviction is the source of Paul’s contentment even in prison. It is the well-spring of that faith to which the Scriptures and Mr. Austin bear testimony, is a faith that affirms the reality and the presence of God, even in the midst of darkness and pain.