Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Elizabeth: "The Oath of God"

I had a few other topics I was considering blogging on, including the lovely but somewhat unusual seder I went to last night, the death of Anna Nicole Smith (which ought to be old news by now, but you'd hardly tell it by watching television) and actually something strange I recently saw at McDonald's; but I had something that really touched my heart in a surprisingly special way in the last 24 hours, and I intend to write on that.

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards, has recently had a remission of her cancer, for those who didn't manage to pick up that tidbit of information from between reports of Anna Nicole's death. Back in 2004, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and while it seemed for some time that she had managed to beat it, it seems that the cancer had spread to her bones, and this time, there is nothing that can be done about it.

The latest issue of Newsweek features a short interview with Edwards on the topic of her coping with cancer, and in reading it, I found a lot of truly inspirational stuff. The one thing that really jumped out at me was that the interviewer asked her essentially about how it had affected her faith. Years before, Edwards had lost her 16-year-old son in a car accident, and she started to speak about her reflections on God's treatment of her and her family.

I had to think about a God who would not save my son. Wade was—and I have lots of evidence; it's not just his mother saying it—a gentle and good boy.
This is the sort of thing that I hear so many people struggle with when they talk about faith. I've blogged on it several times. It seems so often that I hear people who come to this issue, and they don't so much "struggle" with the idea, it seems, but come to a quick conclusion: There must be no God. (Not that I want to cheapen the power of that conclusion; some people may not have jumped to it so easily, and yet still arrived there. Faith (or lack thereof) is a personal thing.)

Philosophers discuss it. Pastors preach on it. Complex theological concepts are batted around by both professionals and laymen like myself. However, there is something simple and profound that perhaps is typified in the book of Job.

Most of you are probably somewhat familiar, but let's review the basics of that book of the Bible, considered by many scholars to probably be the oldest book of the Bible, and one of the oldest philosophical discussions of the problem of suffering. (You may read it here, if you want to, but the book is rather long; you can get the gist of it by reading the first three and last three chapters.) There's this guy Job, and he's an exceedingly good man. God is discussing him with Satan, and Satan claims that Job is only good because he gets rewarded for his goodness by God, and if he had nothing, he wouldn't be such a great guy. So God allows Satan to take away everything Job has, and leave him in poverty. Job's response?
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)
This alone is pretty impressive. Most of us wouldn't be so complacent. Satan is not satisfied, however. He claims that so long as a man has his health, he hardly is suffering. So God allows Satan to make Job break out in "painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head." Now Job has really sunk to a low point, and most people would expect him to give up his faith. Indeed,

His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2:9-10)

To me, that is real faith, deep faith. Faith that doesn't just expect God to be like a genie that grants your every wish, but knows that God is good and righteous even when you can't see His justice in action. Faith that says,
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him..." (Job 13:15)
And that's really the point of the book of Job in many ways: that we have to accept God on His own terms, even if that means suffering for our faith. People will make accusations against people of faith (as Job's friends do, later in the book) and against God because they want and expect God to behave a particular way. But God does not live by our rules, if indeed He lives by any rules at all. Should we expect the Creator of the universe to live up to our expectations, or should we only expect Him to be who He claims to be?

What did Edwards come to believe as a result of her personal losses?
...I had to accept that my God was a God who promised enlightenment and salvation. And that's all.
This is what touched my heart. It sometimes made me seem like a pessimist to my fellow Christians, but in times past, when I had gone through suffering and loss, there were people who told me that I should expect things to improve, because God was looking out for me. My response? "God was looking out for Job, too, wasn't He?"

But for me, this wasn't pessimism, it was realism. If I take God and say that He's a powerful being who exists to take care of my problems, I don't think I'm being Biblical. Jesus Himself promised that we would have trouble (John 16:33), and who am I to say that Jesus is wrong? This isn't bad. Sure I should hope for the best, but just as I'm not going to limit God by saying that He can't fix all of my problems, on the flipside of that, I'm not going to limit Him by saying that He will fix them. Sure, it takes great faith to expect miracles, but doesn't it also take great faith, to say, like Edwards:
I'm not praying for God to save me from cancer. I'm not. God will enlighten me when the time comes. And if I've done the right thing, I will be enlightened. And if I believe, I'll be saved. And that's all he promises me.
I pray that for so many of us unsure in our faith through hard times, that will be enough.

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