Thought for the Day by Adriaan van Klinken (All Hallows’)
Readings: Job 5 and Romans 3: 1-20
One of the most famous novels of post-world war II Dutch literature, is titled (in its English translation), A Flight of Curlews, by the author Maarten ‘t Hart. In this autobiographical text, the writer dissociates himself from his conversative Calvinistic upbringing. In one of the most notable scenes, the I-figure’s mother is on her deathbed, dying from throat cancer. The church elders who come to visit try to comfort her by citing the Reformed Catechism, about divine providence: ‘health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but by God’s fatherly hand.’ The I-figure cannot stomach the idea that his mum’s cancer might be sent to her by God, possibly as a punishment for her sin. He resolutely pushes the elders out of the house.
I was reminded of this scene when reading Job 5. Earlier in this Bible book, we read how Job has lost everything he held dear, including his own wife and children. In despair, he curses the day of his birth (see Job chapter 3). His friend, Eliphaz, responds to Job’s lamentation, preaching a lengthy sermon (chapter 4-5). He even goes as far as to suggest that Job should see his experience of severe loss as a sign of blessing: ‘Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.’
Eliphaz appears to be one of those people who are desperate to make sense of the absurdity of life, much like the church elders in the above-mentioned novel. He hasn’t learned yet that in situations of hardship, it is better to shut up rather than to preach; that it is more meaningful and comforting to sit silently with a friend in despair, than to explain away the suffering they are experiencing.
Life sucks, sometimes. And for some people, it sucks so badly. I do not want a theology that makes sense of the suffering and injustice of life by referring to God’s fatherly hand. Because life is absurd, and faith is a mystery. Yet I do want to believe that in the midst of this absurdity, God is with us. Quietly so.