The Fearfully Uncomfortable Acceptance of Job

“For I Know that My Redeemer Lives, and that at the Last He Will Stand upon the Earth.”

Thankful for this reflection from Carole Duff.

I met my husband later in life, after having lived and learned from many experiences: successes, failures, joys, and sorrows. So, when he told me about the loss of his daughter to suicide, it seemed natural to offer succor to someone who had endured such suffering. Like Job, I thought, though my husband never cast himself as such. And yet, I could see his faith in God had remained strong, as Job’s had, deepened through grief. But it was only after I fell in love that I came to understand what faith really meant: the fearfully uncomfortable knowing of the cross.

I had been a too-smart-to-believe-in-God atheist until the failure of my first marriage brought me to my knees. Thereafter, my children and I visited a church and eventually got baptized. Faith seemed comfortable and simple: believe in God, follow the Spirit, and everything will work out fine. I had yet to learn that God’s grace can be hard, too.

After I accepted his proposal of marriage, he brought me to see his mountain land. We hiked up the ridgeline to the base of the large oak where he had scattered his daughter’s ashes two years before. I hugged the coarse bark of her tree trunk, and he did the same on the other side. Since the trunk was too big for our hands to reach, I shifted right until my fingers touched his hand. In truth, I could not imagine the grief he must have felt, nor did I want to touch that knowing. If I got too close to his child’s loss, I’d think about losing my own. Like Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, I chose to be physically present while emotionally distant from the loss that would be with my husband for the rest of his life.

It never crossed my mind to blame my husband, as Job’s friends blamed Job, as if he’d done something to deserve his misfortune. But I wanted to do whatever I could to keep this from happening to me. Job’s friends probably had similar fears, as if sharing his suffering might invite the same catastrophes into their own lives. Yet I knew our relationship would be less if I chose not to close the “knowing” distance. So during our three-year engagement, I opened my heart to his loss, falling immediately into another trap, that of Job’s wife.

One morning in church service, while singing “Go, My Children, With My Blessing,” suddenly I couldn’t hear his voice. I looked up from the hymnal and saw tears coursing down his face. He said he wished he hadn’t chosen his favorite hymns for his daughter’s memorial service because now he couldn’t sing them anymore. My “knowing” heart opened wide to him but closed to her. Darn, I wish I wasn’t angry with her. I hate the trouble she caused. I hate this suffering. I hate that she killed herself and caused him this pain. What terrible thoughts, and in church no less. I bowed my head in shame. Unlike Job’s wife, I did not curse God. Instead, I blamed his daughter for his suffering, another act of self-defense. As someone who cast herself as a good person who worked hard to earn the “deserved” joys of life, I didn’t know how to handle the “undeserved” sorrows, such as the death of a child, other than with anger and blame.

When we became husband and wife, I made a prayerful effort to join with him, including his past. He welcomed my questions and spoke freely about his daughter. The stories often gained detail and nuance in his retelling, as if he was both reliving what happened and probing its meaning for him. He also encouraged me to read her journal, written during her college years up to the last entry on the night she took her own life. I came to appreciate her honesty — and his. He told me about her goodness and talents but did not hide her mental illness or prodigal behavior, and neither did she. I admit, it took me years to close the distance and let go of anger and blame — and stop hiding my less-than-perfect past. I, too, had suffered depression and anxiety; I, too, had wanted perfection and control; I, too, had wanted pain and anguish to end. In many ways, I was still that person. But by embracing truth — hers and mine — and truly humbling myself to God, I was able to see his daughter as a person who, like many of us, struggled with loving others as herself and forgiving as we are forgiven. With my husband’s love, the support of an understanding pastor, and the fellowship of women in Bible studies at church and in our community, I found my refuge in the cross. But this fearfully uncomfortable knowing was not a once-and-done for me. “Knowing” is an ongoing journey on a path easily abandoned or lost.

My husband is always quiet on his daughter’s birthday, not sad but remembering the golden memories — and others. Blocking the hard times is counter to his nature, yet lingering on loss is counter to his optimism. I, on the other hand, still needed to face the hardest time: the goodbye. Fourteen years after her death, I finally asked him for a copy of her memorial service. While flipping through file folders, searching for the program, he described the service. His speech tracked word-for-word with the file he later emailed to me. No change in narrative, no added details, no nuance. He’d told stories — tender stories, quirky stories, funny stories from his daughter’s life. And there was laughter, he said, at a memorial for a suicide, can you imagine? Yes, I said. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and held him for a long, long time. Love is simple, loving is hard.

Later, I read the memorial service program and jolted at the first Bible reading:

O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:23-27)

“For I know that my Redeemer lives … and I shall see God,” Job’s fearfully uncomfortable knowing, the comfort of eternity.


2 responses to “The Fearfully Uncomfortable Acceptance of Job”

  1. Julie says:

    This is beautiful!

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