When I went in for my four-month check up, we discovered that the child we had prayed for for two years had died. What’s more, my husband was in Afghanistan in the fourth month of his eight-month tour. Not only were we losing the child whose birth we had been joyfully anticipating when he returned, but he would never get to experience the growth of our baby firsthand, as I had not even learned of the pregnancy until two days after he shipped out.
I remember sitting on the sofa that evening after the devastating news, waiting for my mother’s plane to arrive, grateful that I had family that could fly out to be with me. And as shock gradually gave way to overwhelming grief, one verse kept scrolling through my head: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21b).
In the coming weeks and months, I can’t tell you how many times I read and re-read the book of Job. I know it is cliché to turn to the book in times of suffering, but I was reading it again with new eyes. And in the many additional challenges that the next 12 months brought, I found myself always returning to Job 38 and onward, where God finally speaks in response to all of the pseudo-philosophers/theologians surrounding His servant Job. The poetry in this section, where the LORD explains how He is the God of the unknowable, and the sarcasm He employs even as he challenges those who would question His actions – they have provided me with more humility, chastisement, and assurance than anything else.
Most scholars believe that Job is the oldest book of our Old Testament, that it was written down at least a century before a scribe or prophet penned even the book of Genesis. And I can’t help but take comfort in knowing that the book that in many ways speaks the most clearly and relevantly to the universal experience of human suffering is the first one of our holy scriptures to have been composed. To pull from another book, Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 states: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been in the ages before us.”
I will never fully comprehend the “Why?” of human suffering, but over the past 365 days – some days when I really felt so weighed down with grief that I didn’t know how I would make it to the next – I have come to at least understand that the question is not why, but how. How will we react when tragedy befalls us? How will we carry on when it feels like our world has ended, our prayers are going unanswered, and the universe just feels, well, mean? Through it all, we are to remain the trusting, hoping, and often desperate children of God who look to Him in all things. As Job says to his wife, “‘Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’” (2:10b).
We may not want it, we may have to struggle even to look up and see it some days, and we may just be too tired to imagine enduring even one more thing, but as long as we are receiving from the hand of God, we know that we are close to His side. And there is nowhere else I would rather be.