Who reading this has gone through something big, so traumatic that it shook everything in their very core? A type of pain that has never been experienced before, so visceral that words can’t even muster anything close to describing it. Time may heal but right now, time is stuck.
Most of us have, or know someone who has. An unexpected death, a loss, a well laid out plan with months of preparation that was suddenly swept away from you.
As Christians we use our faith in those moments to remind people that God is bigger than our pain. That He has a plan for everything that happens. We may not understand it now, we may never understand it until “Heaven” but we can be sure that God is good and even this will be redeemed.
“God works in unexpected ways we tell each other. God’s ways are not our ways.”
Some of you reading this may be familiar with the ancient mystic tradition of Apophatic belief. I’m sure many of us wouldn’t disagree with the idea that God is love. That God is kind, gracious, peaceful, full of joy and we can experience Him intimately through our own experiences of those things.
The Apophatic Christian then says that God is not love. A contradiction? No. But rather the assertion that God can not be contained in a single adjective. God is love of course, but as sure as He is love he is so much more.
Then, and to really confuse us, the Apophatic Christian will turn around and say that “God is not, not love”. Wait, what?!
I am learning to feel more comfortable with this position not despite but exactly because of it’s confusion. This is the place that we can truly come to an understanding of our inability to understand God. He can’t be pinned down to certain beliefs or doctrines. He is not just a He. She is not simply spirit. There are many moments of grace where God does reveal himself to us but most of the time, God is simply, I am.
The Jewish people were onto something when they realized that it was actually impossible to say His name. That God is actually to be found in our breath. We’re all saying the name of God constantly.
The contradictions we often find in our faith don’t actually come from traditions such as the Apophatic tradition. Nor, does it even come from those parts of the Bible that say one thing then seemingly say something completely different later.
Our contradictions are usually far more subtle and more difficult to detect. Take our earlier example of comforting those in times of deep loss or suffering. When we insist that God is in control and that He will sort this all out, we’re often (not always, but more commonly than we think) using it as a comfort blanket of sorts. Where we don’t have to face up to the possibility ourselves, that God is not in control and perhaps this will never be healed.
It’s not in fact the other person we’re trying to comfort, it’s ourselves.
So we use cliches and phrases that may indeed be true but they aren’t healing. They just encourage everyone to avoid really shining a light on their doubts.
In fact, healing may not even be the point. We demand and desire some sort of lesson in this mess, when making sense is actually just our way of not wanting to experience pain.
Reading Job recently I noticed that initially his friends aren’t blaming him for all the shit that’s happening to him, but reminding him that it’s all going to be ok. He can trust God. But Job doesn’t buy it. So Job’s friend’s get frustrated and then Job gets frustrated and the whole thing goes back and forth for 42 chapters!
I believe Job’s friends had good intentions but Job’s suffering reminded them of their own doubts. They weren’t trying to convince Job, they were trying to convince themselves.
An alternative then is to help each other be ok with pain and doubt and questions and not be so quick to respond. Like the Jewish people, perhaps the best way to bring God into our doubt is not through saying His name out loud but allowing our breath and silence be places where God can break through in a far more intimate way.
Easier said that done. But perhaps that’s part of our problem. We’re far too quick to speak.
For Job, God was silent. And maybe that’s what we all should be listening for.