That we have hope or can hope to hope again, is immense.
(image from ‘In Defense of Tears‘)
I was doing a series of talks on the life of Job.
He is a well known character from the Old Testament.
Not many do talks about him.
We prefer to talk of wealth & success, of victory & vanity – suggesting that to be the outcome of a life connected to the Divine Creator.
Which is a lie, of course.
I had no idea what I was talking about.
As I spoke, I knew it was a charmed life I had been living.
One in which loss was pretty absent & hope was a word I did not need to consider.
The story of Job is intense.
It speaks of a beautiful man, living a beautiful life.
He has everything.
A loving wife.
A tribe of adoring children who’ve been raised & with whom he shares adult life in freedom.
He ran thriving businesses.
He is a great employer.
When we meet Job, loss is pretty absent & hope is a word he had not needed to consider. .
Then everything changes.
In a moment.
He loses all his businesses.
His children die in a freak accident.
All of them.
And he falls ill. Terribly ill.
Teetering on the brink of death.
He tries to make sense of his sudden misfortune, without triumph.
Settling in the belief that his life is intimately connected to the Origin of Life & there must be purpose or reason, even in this immense loss, in his insignificant existence.
That is his hope.
Or his hope that he might hope again.
I talk of this boldly, to the small curious group who’ve come to discover some ideas on ‘loss & hope’.
Over coffee, after every talk, I’m inundated with stories.
My turn to listen.
As they each come to tell me of loss they recognize from their own experience.
A failed business.
A child’s grave.
A violent combat with death.
A loss of relationship.
I listen attentively – very aware that they speak of things I do not know.
Very aware that even though they all relate desperate tales of deep loss, not even if all their stories are combined into a single story would it paint the loss eaten by the man known as Job.
I ask myself: could it be true?
Could one man suffer so much loss & still have hope?
I seek the hope, as I come away, preparing another talk for a dwindling crowd which was not a crowd to begin with.
I’m privileged to see another perspective, one to which Job is not privy, as he suffers loss & desperately hangs on for dear life.
A scene is described, by this master story teller, who perhaps hoped to help us retain hope.
A scene in the unseen world.
A fallen angel coming before the Divine Creator who boasts with Job & his love for him.
The angel challenges: “of course Job would love you so, look at him, his life is charmed, he has everything a human heart could desire, his love is not for you, it is for every ‘thing’ he gains from you. A prostitute he is & you the one buying his love.”
And so it begins.
Job gradually stripped of every ‘thing’, except his life, as the Divine Creator believes in him.
Believes that Job’s love is not bought, but freely given, not in a cheap exchange for good will or blessing, but just because He is.
And I wonder: perhaps the Divine Creator believes in us, more than we ever could?
And I wonder: perhaps the Divine Creator desires to be loved, unconditionally, not for what (s)He does, but for who (s)He is, as much as we desire it.
Perhaps amidst the loss & pain, this perspective could feed a hope – a hope which could sustain through every trial & tribulation?
Fumblingly, I offer this to the dwindling crowd who come again in shriveling numbers, in the hopes of finding hope.
And then, as he was stripped, so am I.
Just as I wrap up my talks on matters I do not comprehend.
I do not lose a business, for I had none.
I do not lose a child, even though I have three.
I lose a calling & opportunity.
Ripped away in a sudden moment, what I thought would be my life.
I lose a family.
Shunned by Father & Mother & Sister & Brother.
I lose employment.
Stripped of ordination & any hope to ever be sustained by what I’ve spent almost two decades building.
I lose friends.
Or what seemed to be friendships.
I lie in a pathetic bundle, in a puddle of tears, in a little bathroom, hoping to hide the desperate cries of my pitiful hopelessness.
And as the bawling subsides, I ask myself: “has (s)He forgotten me? Is (s)He even real?
I weep the words.
Trying to convince myself of my lamentable isolation & inconsequential existence.
To be born, to feed & breed, to die again, a violent death, no more than any animal.
A beast of no significance.
But inside of me a quiet whisper persists.
A whisper quiet enough to be heard above the scream: I believe in you. I believe you love me without condition, not for what I do, but for who I am.
I see no hope.
I embrace futility.
The wailing surging louder.
Perhaps the whisper’s words will be drowned?
For if it is belief in me, which brought me to this place, I do not want that faith.
A leper running desperately in the hope of escaping an untenable reality.
But even to the desolation of dry Thirstland the whisper pursues me to my tent.
Finding me two-thousand miles away where I’ve pitched a camp.
Paralyzed in my devastation.
The murmur prevails: “I have faith in you, more than you could ever imagine. You are more than you believe.”
It follows me as I walk amongst ancient trees & tall Savanah grass.
As I sit staring into crimson flames.
As I cry myself to sleep in my Zuko’s impotent arms.
And we return, my ears still deaf, to a foreign world, the whisper always just behind me, pursuing me wherever my feet may fall.
And I mourn.
For seven years, all the while trying to find my way anew.
And then one morning I awake.
That even though I’ve been consumed by lamentation, I have lived.
A new career with mild success.
A need provided for my family.
A friendship & a love grown.
Without great fanfare.
The pain of rejection & shunning, even that unimaginable destruction anointed with healing.
In the talks delivered to that dwindling crowd that was never a crowd to begin with, I was eager to point to Job’s ‘restoration’.
Wealth restored in double measure.
Children borne to enjoy again.
As I speak, I ask myself: how do you come to peace with such loss? Surely the restoration does not bring the peace?
And now I know, the peace comes first.
And what we see as restoration is not a life repaired.
It is indeed a life lived once more.
Not in denial of what was had & lost, but in acceptance of a burden much weightier.
A life engaged with an eternity which will not come, but has come & is & will come again.
For me & us, this is our hope: our lives connected to the Life. Being, as (s)He is. Believed, more than we could ever believe. Our existence of consequence complete in loss & gain and loss again.
And so we live exhaustive, even though we’re some times exhausted.
Our story the fable of a spark.
And all I can do is encourage you to listen, for that whisper, amidst the noise of loss & pain.
It is (s)He.
Who believes in you, more than anyone has ever believed.