Fatherhood has changed me. I used to be able to handle stories of tragedies involving children with a sigh and a prayer; now, as a husband and father, I can barely sigh for the sorrow I feel. Stories from friends about miscarriages or the death of a child mix in my mind with reports of school-aged Syrian refugees and pictures of a young boy washed up on a beach. I can no longer simply sigh and say my quiet prayer, and then move on with my day. I feel the weight of sorrow for strangers I have never, nor will ever, meet.
My greatest fear is losing my wife or our boys. They are my life’s greatest treasures, the greatest gifts with which God has blessed me. I will look at them, at their smiling blue eyes, and feel God’s love beaming out of them.
And the tragedies of this world, of friends, family, and strangers, shouts at me in my bliss: what if I lost them all? What if I lost everything?
Strangely, or perhaps appropriately, my favorite Bible story is that of Job.
Job was a man who had it all and lost it: his wealth, his family, his friends, even to an extent his wife (she turns against him in his suffering). He does this not because of his sins, but rather because of his righteousness. Satan asks God to let him take away the good things God has given Job, to prove Job will not remain faithful to the Almighty. God allows this evil, and thus Job finds himself childless and broke. What follows is one of the most moving statements in all of Scripture.
Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair. He cast himself prostrate upon the ground and said,
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall go back again.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God (Job 1:20-22).
In such a trial, in such a great tragedy, Job remains faithful to God. Even after Satan increases his oppression of Job, attacking his very body (and, interestingly, Job’s wife), the just man remains faithful. In his faithfulness to God, he questions why this happened to him, lamenting his life. His friends come and give some encouragement, but eventually decide that Job must have done some heinous sin to deserve his suffering. After all, isn’t that why people suffer? Jewish tradition would seem to think so (hence the Apostles’ reaction the man born blind in John 9).
But Job is adamant. He may have sinned, but never something so severe to deserve this much suffering; he, he holds, is an innocent man. The speeches between Job and his friends go back and forth, until finally his youngest friend, Elihu, chastises both the older friends and Job. “He was angry with Job for considering himself rather than God to be in the right. He was angry also with the three friends because they had not found a good answer and had not condemned Job” (Job 32:2-3). Elihu is a necessary voice in this dialogue. He reminds Job that God is the judge of Job’s life, not Job. God decides if Job’s offenses fit the punishment received. In essence, Elihu notes, God is just. He does not punish unnecessarily or without reason. God has everything under control.
So far, Job’s story is my personal nightmare. There is that terror when everything we hold dear to us, our very life, is taken away from us, and we are left with nothing. What can we do but worry, or turn to God and ask Him why? It is a bad dream that seems to have no ending.
Then, as with the worst bad dreams and dark nights, we awaken like Job to the light of morning. It isn’t that Job dreamt the whole affair; his suffering is as real as anyone’s. However, a light has sparked in the darkness.
God speaks to him out of the storm.
God’s response to Job is famous for its indirectness. If the main question of Job is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” then the answer God seems to give is “Who are you to ask? Stop asking stupid questions.”
But there is more to God’s response than a divine “shut up.” God’s response sweeps through creation. The God who, by speaking creates, uses descriptions of His creation to answer a question. God speaks both of the vastness of creation and of its intimacy. In one verse, God asks Job, “Have you entered into the sources of the sea, or walked about in the depths of the abyss” (Job 38:16)? This and other verses indicates the greatness of God, His omnipotent providence. He formed the world, shaped the universe, without anything, ex nihilo. What can we do that even approaches that divine majesty?
At the same time, God notes his intimacy with creation. In Job 39: 1-4, God brings up, of all things, pregnant mountain goats. He asks Job if he watches the goats, noting when they give birth, what they go through as they bear their young, and where each of those young go. He goes on like this for several chapters (the whole speech of God stretches through chapters 38-41), describing the grandness and details of creation.
Why would God bring all of this up? What does this have to do with Job’s suffering and those of us who fear losing our loved ones?
God can’t give Job a straight answer for why there is suffering because neither Job nor us could ever fully understand God’s providence. In our own lives, we can look back at a tragedy that befell us or our family and see the good that came from it, the flowers that sprang from the filth. That is product of God’s hand, that same loving hand that stretched the length and breadth of universe and guides every individual created thing, including his most fickle creation: us.
In His providence, God knows what is best for us. Christ assured his followers of this fact (see Matthew 6:25-34). I still do not want to lose my loved ones. Yet in such fear I find assurance in the “meek and humble” pierced Heart of Christ, which shows, more than anything in this world, that no matter the tragedy, God is in control.