Is there anything more distressing to a pastor's soul than to be overwhelmed by a sense of having lost hold of the hand of God? Perhaps there is, when it appears that no matter what you do, your reaching fingers can't seem to find God's hand again, and it feels as though they never will.
At such times, somewhere deep in the soul, furtive questions begin to insinuate themselves: "Where is God?" "Why has He become so silent?" Worse still, we may look at wrong things we've actually done and feel deep down that through doing them, we've all but permanently extinguished the flickering flame of our personal faith, and made it impossible to again be fully at peace with God and ourselves.
Am I an Esau or a Judas? we might silently wonder. And it sometimes seems there's no one a pastor can talk to about these things. Everything's become dull and hollow, especially the deep core of the soul. And an excruciating barrenness takes over, as we begin to believe ourselves not only to have failed, but to be failures.
Can such a thing happen to a minister? It happened to Elijah and Peter. It especially happened to Job so that he cried out to God, "Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?" (Job 13:24, NIV). And he said of God, "If I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him" (Job 23:8, 9, NIV).
When we look into the soul of job's famous suffering, we see that his pain was not merely identified with things like his loss of everyone and everything, or his wife's faithlessness. But permeating all his loss, there was an overarching deprivation: the misplacement of his sense of innocence or "uprightness" (Job 1:1, NASB) before God, and directly paralleling that, his heart-to-heart connection with God Himself.
And then companion to this there was the disheartening reality that there was no one who had an adequate understanding of what was actually going on in Job's incarnate hell, no one understood Job, especially not what was going on between him, Satan, and God (see Job 1), even though Eliphaz, Bildad, and the others certainly acted as though they were experts in the field as they offered their high-sounding theological explanations.
And so the best human wisdom that was available to Job assured him that he was the sole cause of his problems; for why else would a just God turn His back and treat him so? And even though like every one of us, Job manfully attempted to preserve his innocence before them, himself, and God, he was frightfully highly vulnerable before the accusing, reproving fingers of his pious "friends." Worst of all, their fingers seemed, especially in the context of job's understand able insecurity, to wield the authority of the finger of God Himself.
Believing the diagnoses of these authorities was especially pernicious considering that in all that was going on there was one thing that became entirely clear and present: That God was still doing exactly what it seemed He was not doing: actually watching and listening to all that happened, albeit from behind His mystifying silence. God was awaiting the strategic moment, dictated by infinite wisdom and love.
So, at the end of Job's story the moment of truth arrives, and Job finally comes to the place to which God has inexorably been leading His man. Having left behind his silenced friends, Job finally hears God's voice and "sees," and having seen, allows the experience to penetrate his harrowed soul, and he responds, "My ears have heard you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:4-6, NIV). How amazingly cleansing and relieving is this sort of deep, permeating, contextual repentance!
The way God related to Job's life as a whole (even though it's an "Old Testament" life) proclaims the immensely powerful truth at the heart of God's revelation in Jesus Christ; the truth expressed so powerfully in those few simple words from the old hymn: "When darkness seems to veil His face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil." 2 If for you or me things are heading into darkness, or if we've actually been sitting long in the dark, let's sing the old song and see the great light it pro claims. Consistent with that, why not also prayerfully read the sage wisdom so present in this month's lead article by Victor Parachin.
1 Edward Mote, "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less," Number 522, The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, 1985. Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, Maryland.