I once went through a period of unemployment that lasted two years. I wasn’t picky in looking for full-time employment – I resorted to temp agencies and part-time retail positions. Temp agencies are in their own world, and get so many resumes, not to mention that every employer wants someone who has been working in jobs in their field. So, when you are a mid-level professional with college education, you can’t get work you are over-qualified for. I tried all manner of strategies, marketed myself in different ways to a handful of different directions within how my transferable skills apply, but the HR recruiters are extremely picky. I tried big box stores and omitted my degree; I mixed things up this way and backwards – customized resumes, customized cover letters. I did everything and it seemed to make no difference, no matter what I did. One may think the country was in recession at the time, but it wasn’t. We had pulled out of that, but unemployment compensation to the long-term unemployed was still going. It was cut off before I found work again.
On a social-political note, when calloused conservatives suggest unemployment is from a lack of effort, they have no idea how their words cut. I went without any income at all for nine months, beginning in December 2013 when they cut my unemployment off. They did that after they slashed the percentage and knocked me down from a whopping $160 per week to $136 per week. My savings depleted completely and giving the whole mess over to God is what I believe God was after.
Spiritual seasons have a life all their own and this one was absolutely agonizing. I went through the gamut of emotions: despair, hope, disappointment (again and again and again and again), self-doubt, frustration, grief – you name it. But I went though it as a believer. Many people testify that trials and tribulations are eased by faith. For me, I often thought my faith made it harder – more complicated. “Where is God?” is a question that can be asked in myriad ways and I think it makes something worse that is just downright hard already.
I had doubts about supernatural forces because it seemed mythological. So, I interpreted those concepts as metaphorical in scripture, but this trial I went though showed me there is a literal devil and I had a target on my back. The Biblical pattern Jesus went through by coming up out of the water of baptism and being immediately led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil was being repeated. As hard as that is to go through, it’s an honor. We can “die” with Him knowing we will also live with Him.
It can take an addict years and a lot of pain before they hit rock bottom and begin to recover. One doesn’t have to be an addict to experience this. You don’t even have to be co-dependent. This season seemed like a never-ending storm of setbacks that pushed me and pushed me and pushed me past breaking point after breaking point after breaking point. I’m still here. Some days, that’s all I could say, but I have been through some crap before and have the tools to process this stuff. Except that haunting question lingered. “Where is God?” “Why isn’t God doing something?” “Why is God allowing this to continue?” I trusted. I hoped. I prayed. Nothing. Silence.
Like I said, one can ask this haunting, gut-wrenching “Where is God” question in so many ways, but it is never answered. Yet, it is resolved. How? Jesus.
This isn’t just some religious crutch or coping mechanism. The heat I was under exposed impurities in my faith. It was those impurities that gave rise to being haunted by that question – not circumstances. Most of us want a god who takes away the pain, but that isn’t the God we have. God didn’t even spare Jesus from excruciating anguish and despair. Let’s look at the context:
The Jews had always been on the bad end of the stick. They were taken into captivity in Babylon, enslaved in Egypt, and occupied by the Roman Empire. In one form or another, they were oppressed by somebody. Then, the Holocaust happened. I mean, c’mon! How much is a group of people supposed to take!?! And these are the “chosen people?” Really!?! Really, God!?! Really!?!
Throughout all of this injustice, the Jews cried out to God. Again and again and again, they cried out in anguish for deliverance. They expected a messiah who would free them from oppression. All of their hopes hinged on it. Then, he came.
He didn’t do as they expected. Now, put yourself in their shoes – this isn’t just some intellectual expectation; it’s an urgent, dire need. They are suffering and counting on God to come through for them.
So do we, from time to time. Just like the Jews, we want a god who will take away the pain. What we all (Jews and Gentiles) have is a suffering savior. Well, what good does that do?
It kills the ghost. The ghost that haunts us with the added despair of that nagging question “where is God.” Not that the question is answered, you see. God is everywhere and God is with us in the storm, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It is of little solace to believe God is with you, because that doesn’t change the circumstances and when your soul is crying out in despair, the belief doesn’t necessarily help much. What does help, at least for me, is the cross. It confronts me with the chasm between the god I want and the God who is. At the Cross of Christ, the question isn’t answered – it dies.
So does mere religion.
The God behind the cross cannot be used as a crutch; it just doesn’t work that way. The God behind the cross is a God who believes in us more than we do. The God behind the cross doesn’t fix all our problems and make the pain go away because God works from the position of the eternal. We are finite and God sees and understands so much that we don’t. This eternal God may not stop our momentary afflictions, but this is the God who, according to the New Testament, came into the storm and shared it with us – every last part of it.
Whether you believe or how you believe is your business. I’m not interested in proselytizing anyone, so this is no sales pitch. But, for me, this story about Jesus is just so damn wild that I couldn’t really believe it unless I also suffered. He relates to us through suffering, but we are also knit to him by it.
This is something mere religion simply can’t do – it can’t take the heat. But the one who died, was buried, and rose again took every last thing this brutal world could throw at him – and he overcame it.