There are those who believe that if they are kind and just, bad things in life will be mitigated. The story of Job is in the Biblical canon to make us question such an assumption. Job, the enigmatic metaphor of suffering, lived believing that he had always behaved in a way that honoured God. Satan suggested to God that it is easy to honour God when life is good, and Job's life was good. But what would happen if Job faced great challenges, painful challenges? And so the test began: the first reality show. Everything that mattered to Job, everything that made life worth living, was taken away; and what mattered most was family and health. Friends begged him to admit that he had done something wrong and beg God's forgiveness. But Job was steadfast. And then he finally confronts God, asking why these things have happened to a man who has devoted his life to honouring Him. The question is heartbreaking. It is a question that torments so many of us. God's answer is enigmatic.
"Brace yourself like a fighter: I am going to ask the questions, and you are to inform me! Where were you when I laid down the earth's foundations? Tell me since you are so well informed! Who decided its dimensions, do you know? Or who stretched the measuring line across it? Who supports its pillars at the base? (Job 38:3-6)
God tells Job that he was not present at the beginning of creation and will not be there at the end. And we are left to ask, what does that mean?
After almost 40 chapters dealing with suffering, we are left with a feeling of anxiety because we have not been given a definitive answer about suffering and evil; and living with ambiguity can be unbearable. So we search for absolute answers to assuage the unbearableness. There are those who believe that everything is God's will. Unfortunately, they will always be victims of circumstance because they believe that they have no control and that life happens to them.
Others believe that they can affect God's will by following a particular dogma. If they do what they are told by their preachers, all will be well. Unfortunately, when life does not go well, their suffering intensifies because they take on the guilt of failure. Then there are those who do not believe that God exists, that we are on our own. The story of Job is timeless because it opens the door to deep, internal soul searching that each of us needs to do during our lifetime because life is not simple while our yearning for meaning is multi-layered.
That yearning reaches its pinnacle when tragedy strikes. Did Adam and Eve remain steadfast in their love for their son Cain after he killed Abel? The Bible doesn't say much about how they felt, how they dealt with the death of their son. How does a parent deal with the death of a child? Not just a death—a murder. And the murder was committed by the brother. Did Adam and Eve have unconditional love for Cain? Did they recover from the death of one beloved son at the hand of the other beloved son? Did they find closure? We want answers. We have trouble accepting that life is difficult. It has been since Adam and Eve left the Garden.
We struggle when coming to terms with all the "what ifs." Then we hear about healing and closure. What do these words mean? Are we expected to accept what has happened? How does one accept tragedy?
Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." I met someone who said that if it doesn't kill you, it can make you weaker. It's true. It can make you weaker, but you make that choice. We choose how we respond to any and all events because our thought circuitry, our emotional circuitry, our physiological circuitry, are all connected to our multidimensional behavioural circuitry.
Free will not only allows us to choose life, it demands it of us: "Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live." (Deut. 30:19-20) We choose to live for those who came before us so that we can keep alive their knowledge and wisdom. We live for our children and our children's children so that we can transmit to them all that we have learned. We live and continue to live in the hope that we will find new meaning and purpose in our life. We live and continue to live because of our obligation to honour God: the dead cannot praise Yahweh, those who sink into silence, but we, the living, shall bless Yahweh, henceforth and forever. (Psalm 115:17)
In Messengers of God, Elie Wiesel takes us on a journey through the trials and tribulations of Job. Wiesel is angry with the ending of the story: Job's immediate surrender to God after God rebuked him. Why did Job not demand an answer from God for all the pain and suffering? What of justice for his children, taken through no fault of their own? And yet, Job agreed to live, again. As Wiesel points out: "Therein lies God's true victory: He forced Job to welcome happiness. After the catastrophe, Job lived happily in spite of himself."
When we are physically wounded, scar tissue will eventually form over the wound. At first, the new skin is very thin, weak and vulnerable. If the wound is not cared for properly, it can re-open, starting the healing process all over again. But over time, a physical wound that is cared for will heal, and the scar tissue that covers it can be stronger than the original layer of skin. So, too, with the heart and the soul. The initial wound can be so deep as to almost kill not the physical body but the soul. But like skin tissue, the soul, too, can heal. Over time the scar over the wounded soul will become stronger, perhaps even stronger than the original covering.
Unfortunately, there is an expectation, today, of closure following a catastrophic event, from the death of a loved one to the death of a dream. I have lost track of the number of books, articles, television programs and gurus who have told us how to grieve and find closure. It is an industry. We want answers when life falls off the rails, veers from our carefully, lovingly planned path. Rare are those among us who choose chaos over control. When we lose control we turn to anyone who says, "I have the answer. Come, follow me." And we do. We take their plan, from their personal experience, as if there were a one-size-fits-all pattern for grieving. So we follow their way; and yet, there is no closure.
Promoting the concept of closure is facile, disingenuous and mean-spirited. It is my experience that seeking closure is an exercise in futility. We are not obligated to accept a tragedy. Rather, to survive we must come to terms with it by accepting and embracing the person we become because of the tragedy. And that requires forgiveness, especially of ourselves. First, we must forgive ourselves for our anger and hurt. We must forgive ourselves our guilt and our sense of failure. We ask God to forgive us our trespasses. And from that we learn that we can forgive others. We forgive not for their sake but our own. For those we cannot forgive, for events that are evil, we leave forgiveness to God. As long as you carry anger or hate toward another, you are in a damaging relationship with that person. It takes time and work to let go. Forgiveness that comes too soon, too quickly, is superficial.
Life is not a book of separate, neat, distinct chapters as if past experience can be put behind us, behind a door. It is done. Put it away. End of chapter. Now, move on, carry on, look to the future. How unfair to the heart and the soul. The chapters and verses are interconnected, sometimes flowing one into the other, while others are so disjointed that looking back one wonders, Whose life was this? Life ebbs and flows with times of joy and sorrow and with intermittent, quiet, restful times that each soul needs to recuperate, to adjust to the loss, waiting for the right time to begin again, to dream again, to look outward with hope and renewal.