“Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Ever feel this way? Certain situations come up in life where we are overwhelmed and full of anxiety, feeling all alone, at a total loss of what to do, and we sometimes just cannot do anything at all. C.S. Lewis faced such a crisis upon losing his wife after a bout with cancer. He also said:
“We were promised sufferings.They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it.
I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
As a parent, we would rather shield and protect our children from all harm, but the fact is we cannot. Ultimately our children grow and become adults by facing their own adversity. We cannot do it for them. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards… His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Job’s faith was no house of cards, but it was severely tested nevertheless. Even his faith seemed ready to fail underneath the pressure, especially after his friends came to “encourage” him, theologically.
How not to minister to those in crisis
Job had 3 friends, here’s an abbreviated account of their interactions:
Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it…” -Job 4:1,7,8
“It’s got to be someone’s fault, must be yours.” Eliphaz’ boiled it down.
“You reap what you sow, Job…” Something wasn’t right, and Eli knew he’d pinned it. Job needed to get right, even though the first chapter reminds us that Job was “Upright and shunned evil.” Eli said “Well, it’s got to be someone’s fault, must be yours.”
This, of course, didn’t help at all, Job responded:
“If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales! It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas.” -Job 6:1
Even if it was Job’s fault that calamity had come upon him, he did not need the added condemnation from his friends. Most of us have had a few days like this, but then Bildad goes a little further:
“When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. But if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your rightful place.” –Job 8:1,4-6
to which Job replied:
“Indeed, I know that this is true. But how can a mortal be righteous before God?” -Job 9:1-2
Job understood the truth that no matter how “good” and righteous we may try to be; who can hold up their own righteousness as anything before God? Job continued:
“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God: Do not condemn me, but tell me what charges you have against me. Does it please you to oppress me?” -Job 10:1-3
Most of us must admit, we have been here, right where Job is, for much less. I have given free rein to my complaint, and spoken out in my bitterness regularly and abundantly.
Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: “You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless and I am pure in your sight.’ Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you…” -Job 11:1,4,5
Then Job said: “You people really know everything, don’t you? And when you die, ALL wisdom will die with you!” -Job 12:1-2
Their judgemental attitude stung Job deeply. Where was compassion or understanding? We don’t read that, though Job had lost everything, that his friends gave him even a second-hand camel, or gifts, or money, no, just opinions on why he had problems. Job said “Thanks alot guys!”
We should not be too quick to render judgment about the suffering of others. Disciples are called to respond differently:
- Be kind and compassionate to one another -Ephesians 4:32
- Comfort one another -1 Thessalonians 4:18
- Bear one another’s burdens –Galatians 6:2
We have a great opportunity to share love and compassion with those who face difficulty. Henri Nouwen put it this way:
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief & bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
– Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak
Discovering what it means to be the Community of God
As disciples we are called, and have the opportunity, to be kind to the world around us. Most people don’t stick around when things get tough. We are called to be those people, to be there when the chips are down, to help carry another’s burden for a little while, even in silence, not knowing, not curing, not healing.
“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
This world will never be completely comfortable, though we strive to take it as it comes and to live at peace as much as is possible. When the house of cards falls we need refreshment from the Community of God. We also have an opportunity to be refreshers of others when others are in crisis. God has given us the church, each other, to help us through. The community of God is of paramount importance to each of us as we make our journey towards home.
Father Dale Hall began ministry in 1987 at Calvary Baptist Church, in Rome, Georgia, while in college. He’s been a social worker and crisis counselor, as well as a Vineyard pastor. Now he’s an Anglican priest serving at The Mission, in Chattanooga, where he leads several ministries, and lives with his wife Kimberly. They have two sons and a daughter in law.