Where Is God?

October 14, 2018/Job 23:1-9, 16-17


Most folks have at least a passing knowledge of C.S. Lewis.  They know of him because they read – or read to their children – his Narnia tales.  They know of him because of his long friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, another British professor and writer of fantasies – remember Lord of the Rings?  Or they know of him because of his extensive writings about Christianity, from Surprised by Joy, a work that described his own discovery of faith, to his satiric Screwtape Letters, a dialogue between Satan and a young apprentice.

But not as many people know that, for most of his life, Lewis was a confirmed bachelor.  He was 58 when he married Joy and brought her and her two sons to live with him just outside of Oxford, England.  It was, according to Lewis, a marriage of convenience at first.  Joy was American, and with her visa about to expire she and her sons faced deportation; her marriage to Lewis gave her British citizenship.  Although sick when they married, Joy regained her health and the two built a happy life together.  “You’d think we were a honeymoon couple in our early twenties, rather than our middle-aged selves,” she wrote friends.[1]

Three years later, her cancer returned, and in July 1960, she died.

Lewis was devastated.  He poured out his grief in empty notebooks.  “In previous times of happiness, Lewis claims that he found God present everywhere he turned.  But in the midst of his present anguish”[2] his search for God came up empty.

Lewis wrote:

Meanwhile, where is God? … Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence. … Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? … [Someone] reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not, “So there’s no God after all,” but, “So this is what God’s really like.  Deceive yourself no longer.”[3]

“There once was a man who lived in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”  Job has, by this point in our story, lost everything except his life.  His friends have all come by to sit with him.  They have listened to his complaints and his grief.  And one by one, they have lectured Job: “Since Job is clearly suffering, he must have sinned in some way that has brought God’s punishment upon him.  His only way out is repentance.”[4]  But Job is not having it.

It is his turn to respond, and he “does so in thundering indignation, each word testifying to the theological war raging within him.  Who is God?  Where is God?  What can human beings reasonably expect from a life of faith?”[5]

Job is convinced that if he could confront God and argue his case, he would be vindicated.  His friend Eliphaz urges him to make peace with God, but Job argues for justice.  “Job will not sue for peace under the present circumstances.  In [the prophet] Jeremiah’s terms, that would be to say ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).”[6]  “God’s absence has given Job lots of time to think, and what he has been thinking about is all the ways in which he has, in fact, been a righteous man and contributed to God’s kingdom.”[7]

Like C.S. Lewis, Job’s despair does not erase his faith.  He is “well acquainted with suffering, but his faith endures.  His mouth is full of arguments, but they are arguments with God.”[8]  While his friends try to shut him up, Job persists in his questioning.  That is not a bad model for us to follow.  The Rev. Randolph Harris writes:

Too often have folk simply given in, resigning themselves to their misfortune: “It must be the Lord’s will; I guess we will just have to accept it.”  Or … they abandon faith in God altogether.  Job offers a third way: he is unwilling to accept suffering passively, but he also refuses to abandon his faith! … [Job reminds us that] arguing with God is an act of deep faith – deeper, perhaps, than a passive acceptance of whatever happens as God’s will, or a carefully articulated theological rationalization for why things are.[9]

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, in a world of suffering “only the suffering God can help.”[10]  “Job’s cry is answered by Jesus on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34).  Here, in the midst of Jesus’ anguished cry, we find that the depth of human suffering has been taken into God’s very being. … Paul reminds us, in light of Jesus’ suffering, that the good news of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ, we know that nothing – not injustice, not suffering, not even an overwhelming sense of God’s absence – can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:31-39).  Safe and secure in this knowledge, we are set free to lament and to argue our case with God.”[11]

[1] C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, 141

[2] J.S. Randolph Harris, Feasting on the Word B/4, 149

[3] Lewis, 4-5

[4] Mark A. Throntveit, Feasting on the Word B/4, 149

[5] Debie Thomas, “The God of Change,” Journey with Jesus, 07 October 2018

[6] J. Gerald Janzen, Interpretation: Job, 165

[7] Thomas Edward Frank, Feasting on the Word B/4, 150

[8] Harris, 149

[9] Harris, 151

[10] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 361

[11] Harris, 151

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