I continue with another entry inspired by some talks I did on Daniel. Even though Daniel himself doesn't get much of a look in this time round...this is where my wonderings took me...
Somehow the weight was taken off when the young man’s friend offered the eulogy, when we sang his favourite songs and when the Pastor quoted from the scriptures. As long as someone kept giving life to stories and flashing photographs of a life lived...as long as he was still in the room...things almost seemed okay. But then the talking stopped. The music stopped. And the life sized coffin was wheeled past us and away. We stood because that is the respectful thing to do when people leave. There was a pause and what felt more like reality than the hope that was felt just moments before seemed to re-establish itself. It made the air feel thicker and the sudden pressure made your eyes water.
In Psalm 139 David writes, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” God and the comfort he brings surrounded David. Even death wouldn’t see him escape God’s loving presence.
Job had something different to say.
Christian types always seem to look down on gambling, or friendly wagers as you might explain them when talking to your mother, particularly when they involve the Prince of Darkness. That doughnut you want so badly usually seems to be retailing at soul-sized value when Lucifer is around. But when it came to Job, God made an exception. He does the unspeakable.
He makes a deal with the Devil.
In a story which shows the value God seems to place on our keeping faith in him, he allows Satan to pull the rug from under Job’s life. Everything is taken away from him. Not even the lives of his family are spared. It won’t come as a surprise that Job doesn’t see things in quite the same way as David. Far from feeling surrounded by the love and protection of God, Job laments, “Behold, I go forwards, but he is not there, and backwards, but I do not perceive him.”
A character in Coupland’s “Hey, Nostradamus!” toys with the similarities of "God is now here"/"God is no-where". Which is closer to our daily experience? When everyone stops talking. When the music stops playing. When people start to stand, respectfully.
Job comes to mind when I think of Daniel being thrown to the lions. Their only crime was faithful discipleship. Did Daniel respond like Job or did he show the kind of unwavering faithfulness and confidence that so defines his story? Did he question the unfairness? Did he rage and weep when no-one was looking? We don’t know. We do know that things were worked out for Daniel. He was pulled out of the pit the following morning and pointed to his innocence as the reason. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are being threatened with what we tell our children was a ‘fiery furnace’, the alliteration seeming to give it a fluffy fun quality deemed fit for such an audience (maybe that’s just me), they explain that they are confident that God has the power to save them but are humble enough to conclude that they have no idea whether he will choose to or not. In their case and in the case of Daniel it appears that he chose life. In Job’s case no such intervention was forthcoming.
That the Bible promises such persecution for those that love the light in a world of shadows is true but that does little to explain the inescapable unfairness of this world. It wasn’t persecution that led to the death of the young man I have already mentioned before his thirtieth birthday, nor his brother before his twentieth nor their sister before her first. The fragility we were left with when our world fell seems to ensure random breakages time and time and time again. And that smacks of an unfairness so bitter and can induce a fear so palpable that it defies explanation.
The Bible tells us that one reason why our causes for complaint should be directed at an unfair life and not an unfair God, would be that we deserve nothing from him to begin with. We have been graced with our very lives and even more than that, a relationship with our Maker that should have been far beyond our imperfect grasp. And yet when tragedy snaffles out life before it could stretch its legs or when burdens become insufferably heavy, we still look to the heavens with angry questions on our lips. We still scream unfairness. Because we are told that this Father is the kind that cuddles his children and takes them on fishing trips and slips chocolate in to their hands when their mother is not looking. The birds of the air have everything they need for a life of fulfilment and they are not loved anywhere nearly as deeply as us. We scream unfairness because while we know the fiery furnace is a reality of life we know there is a power that really could reduce it to fluffy fun if it deemed fit.
Towards the end of Job’s story God finally speaks, his voice echoing dramatically out of a whirlwind, and what does he say? Frederick Buechner puts it like this. “God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kinds of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a clam...God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself.” Job’s questions dry up when he realises the majesty of who he is addressing. Awe was inspired and the resulting humility forced the acceptance of something humanity has never willingly acknowledged – not when we tried to build a tower that would allow us to touch the heavens, not when we created a means of unleashing nuclear hell upon our enemies, not when we seek medically afforded immortality and not when we scratch each others eyes out arguing about the means and purpose of time’s beginning – we cannot know or understand everything.
A lot seems to hinge on the way in which God has chosen to redeem his wayward creation, a choice we are told speaks volumes about his character. His has yet to be the way of the vengeful conqueror - he sent a baby not a battalion. I think of the young man's father and the children he has watched die and I think of God watching his own son die. I wonder. Phillip Yancey writes this: “The cross that held Jesus’ body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the Cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love. No –one is exempt from tragedy or disappointment – God himself was not exempt. Jesus offered no immunity, no way out of the unfairness, but rather a way through it to the other side.”
While I have seen tragedy break in the world around me I would say that I have yet to experience its sudden destruction within my own personal world. When I think about if and when I do, fear and hope mingle in a way that feels like panic. I hope that my belief in the ‘other side’ will be enough, or will be deepened enough, for me to make it through. I fear that I will simply collapse or even wish to curse God and die.