Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
You said, "Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you shall answer me." My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
One of my all-time favorite books is Till We Have Faces by the great C.S. Lewis, a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. Set in the fictional kingdom of Glome, the story is written from the perspective of Orual, princess of Glome, who is angry at the gods
for what she perceives as injustice regarding her beloved sister Psyche. Her indignant ire and blind arrogance fuel everything she does, and she vows to confront the gods and force them to listen to her cockamamie logic, believing they will be overcome with remorse and agree that she has been dealt too much suffering. When at last she is afforded an audience with the gods, she is met with only silence. (The very last page literally took my breath away the first time I read it, so nakedly did Lewis put himself out there and reveal his own "face".) Her confrontation only reveals her own heart, and she "repent(s) in dust and ashes."
I believe Lewis, in addition to drawing from Greek myth and his own life, pulled from Scripture for the principles in his beautiful story. Certainly, parallels can be drawn with Job, from whom everything was taken and to whom everything was revealed, including God's perfection and Job's own frailty. Unlike Orual's anger, however, Job's humility served to
advance his faith and earned him a spot in Christian history.
The Bible says Job, even in his suffering, did not sin. What does it mean to not sin in our suffering? Sure, it means the obvious, that we don't lash out at others or any such thing, and most people take it to mean that Job didn't sin by questioning God. However, Scripture says the latter just isn't true. Many chapters in Job are devoted to God's response to Job's questions. No, I think the answer to Job's righteous behavior lies in the mind, what has rightly been called a battlefield. The following passage from the pen of Jeremiah is rather lengthy, but serves to highlight a truth.
I am the one who has seen the afflictions
that come from the rod of the Lord’s anger.
He has led me into darkness,shutting out all light.
He has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and flesh grow old.
He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and surrounded me
with anguish and distress.
He has buried me in a dark place,
like those long dead.
He has walled me in,
and I cannot escape.
He has bound me in heavy chains.
And though I cry and shout,
he has shut out my prayers.
He has blocked my way with a high stone wall;
he has made my road crooked.
He has hidden like a bear or a lion,
waiting to attack me.
He has dragged me off the path
and torn me in pieces,
leaving me helpless and devastated.
He has drawn his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He shot his arrows
deep into my heart.
My own people laugh at me.
All day long they sing their mocking songs.
He has filled me with bitterness
and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink.
He has rolled me in the dust.
Peace has been stripped away,
and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Look at his abject depression, his despondency, even. How did he turn that around and go from complaint to praise, from victim to victory?
The answer to this is found by examining the verbs Jeremiah uses. Right before he breaks out in praise, Jeremiah says, "I remember my affliction ... I well remember them ..."
In English, we have one word -- "remember" -- that we use various ways. If someone asks me my childhood friend's phone number from decades ago, I might open the file cabinets, if you will, searching the deep recesses of my mind for that number. If I fail to recall it, I'll say, 'I don't remember.' But when it comes to me in the middle of the night, or while I'm reading or watching TV, I'll exclaim, 'I remember!'
Those two processes are very different things, a fact highlighted in the original biblical language. The first involves active work on my part, trying to conjure up some memory, actively searching the file cabinets, pondering a thought. The second involves no action -- the information just presents itself to me unbidden, like a slip of paper that appears on my desk.
Our sufferings are always before us. They pile up on our desk and overflow our file cabinets. We can see them, and the memories of them pop unbidden into our minds, sometimes by a song we hear or a phrase someone uses, maybe the sight of a car or the cologne someone is wearing in the grocery store.
When these memories pop in our minds, we have a split second to make a decision, one for sin or righteousness. We can invite those memories in, and meditate on the wrong, or replay it in our mind, or think of what we should have said or done, or maybe how we're going to get back at the wrongdoer.
The alternative is what Jeremiah did. He says, "But this I remember, and therefore I have hope ... " Some translations say, "Yet this I call to mind ... " Jeremiah chose to actively work to fill his mind with truth rather than lies, the "things above" Paul talked about rather than "earthly things."
The thing Jeremiah meditated on is, in fact, evidence of God's love for us -- that we are not consumed. I don't mean that we're not consumed with grief or overwhelmed by our circumstances. Those may be true. "Consumed" here means completely laid to waste -- destroyed, dead. Jeremiah knew the very fact that he was still walking around and not struck down by God's just wrath was more than he deserved and evidence that God loved him, had compassion on him, and had plans for him. When the memory of Jeremiah's enemy entered his mind, he replaced the thought with truth -- that God loves him. This is the key to the hope Jeremiah experienced and the peace with God Job knew.
Are you, like Orual, remembering the wrong done to you, or, like Job and Jeremiah, meditating on God's goodness?
Father, I want to be like the servants You told us about in Your Word. I want to set my mind on things above. You know better than I the frailty of my mind and how tempting it is to rehash the wrongs done to me. When this happens, remind me of truth; remind me of You.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Colossians 3:2-3