It has been a hard Lent so far. It has been a lonely Lent so far. It has been a dark Lent so far. And maybe that is exactly what I need right now; maybe that is what all of us need at some point or another. I can’t help but reflect on the reasons why we are so often uncomfortable in our own skin, why we are in many ways often unhappy and unsatisfied despite the many ways that we’ve already been blessed.
I can get upset by my soccer team losing. I can get upset by somebody disagreeing with me on the internet. I can get upset by politics, or academics, or personal slights perceived or real. I can get upset about someone calling me at the wrong time, or the winter overstaying its welcome by a full month or other trivial things, and I know they are trivial. But is it really comforting to know that so many people have it so much worse? How could it be, unless I took some sort of comfort from their suffering more? How can anyone derive satisfaction from the fact that our friends, our family, our world are suffering too, are suffering more? On the contrary, their suffering also becomes our own; and it is no longer trivial. It demands an answer.
I’m reflecting a bit on the Book of Job this Lent. It is a discussion between Job and his companions over the injustices visited upon Job, a righteous man who is suffering under the very gaze and hands of God. He never did a wrong thing in his life, and yet everything he had is taken from him. He is given nothing but suffering to the point where he sits in an ash heap, covered in diseased sores, waiting for death. Job’s friends visit him, and in front of them, Job demands that God account for himself and answer for the wrongs he has visited upon Job. At first his friends rebuke him, but by the end of all their long-winded explanations and back-and-forth debate, his friends have nothing left to offer. Maybe Job is right. God is unjust. But then God himself finally answers. After 37 chapters of human rhetoric and philosophizing, God gives his answer in a mere four. It is an answer that we and our modern ideals find thoroughly unsatisfying. It is an answer that is nothing short of a smack-down. What God says, in so many words, is that he is God and we are not.
Sometimes, in the desert, in the wilderness, sitting in the ashes, we come to understand something very simple, and very true. We are not gods. We don’t have a claim to comfort, or health, or long-life, or even happiness. Who among us, even a great man such as Job, can look their Creator in the eye and demand an account for our suffering? Who among us can list off what we deserve in life, when we can’t even give reason for our own existence? There is a futility in trying to wrap our minds around and trying to explain and scrutinize and understand every thing, big or small, that brings darkness and suffering into our lives. We don’t know why we experience darkness and suffering. There is peace and wisdom in knowing that. There is freedom in knowing that. We try so hard in every minute of our lives to fight suffering, to fight discomfort, to fight unfairness and every slight against us to win that recognition, that dollar, that acceptance, that happiness that we “know” that we so rightly deserve. We “know” what we deserve, and it is unfair when we don’t get it. The truth is that we are afraid of our own selves, our own mortality, our own pain, our own weaknesses and sins and frailties. We are afraid of our own humanity.
And yet human is all that we are. I’ve said it once that there is peace and freedom in knowing our humanity and I’ll say it again. We can be freed from the burden of constantly trying to become like gods and can be given the freedom to become like God. We are freed to become like a God who didn’t spurn humanity but took it on, who in his humanity also felt despair, and darkness, and suffering, but who embraced it and in doing so transformed it and triumphed over it. We are given the grace to reverse the Fall, to stop listening to the snake telling us that what God has made us is not enough and that we have to make ourselves more, but rather to embrace the deserts and deficits of our humanity in humbleness and obedience. How happy Adam and Eve would have been, had they remembered their blessing rather than covet that which was beyond their reach.
I know that sounds harsh. I know that it rebels against anything and everything we’ve ever been taught about what is our due, what our rights are, and what we know we deserve and how we know we should be treated and what is fair and just and what you owe me and I owe you. Just for a moment I want you to be able to let go of all that, voluntarily sit in the ashes, and find peace. Let go of the god in you who deserves so much more, and remember the human who cannot begin to deserve their own creation out of humble earth.
In the wilderness, in emptiness, in the desert, among the ashes, it is alright to be human, not gods; to be losers, not winners; to be creations, not Creators; to be penitents, not judges. Maybe that is part of the meaning in what Christ showed us through Cross. Maybe that is part of the reminder we are given each Lent. Maybe it is our seeming inability to stop grasping at who we think we are and what we think we deserve that prevents us from becoming like the One who let it all go. Maybe our obsession with being like gods prevents us from giving up what we need to give up in order to truly be human to one another.
For dust you are and to dust you shall return.(Gen 3:19)
Brace yourself like a fighter; I am going to ask the questions, and you are to inform me!
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, since you are so well-informed!
Who decided its dimensions, do you know?
Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning or sent the dawn to its post…
Have you been right down to the sources of the sea and walked about at the bottom of the Abyss? (Job 38:3-5,12,16)