I am a fan of words. Writing is so central to my identity that I cannot imagine my life without it. When someone asks me what I wish I could change about my life, my first answer is always that I wish I had the inner discipline to write more often.
Words have had such power in my life, and for so long, that it’s logical that I want to believe that there’s nothing words can’t do. Words can persuade, can change hearts, can tear down or build up. They are a formidable weapon. They are a gift. John’s gospel reminds us that “In the beginning was the Word” . . . God’s answer to the impossibility of our sinful selves ever being able to be in His presence was a Word–THE Word. All God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus.
Every so often, though, I come up against a situation where words don’t seem to be able to reach. And I am never willing to accept this, to concede defeat and succumb to wordlessness, and to the admission that the situation is beyond my power to repair.
Over the last eight months, I have been up against a situation that has tested my faith in a way that nothing else I have lived through ever has. In some ways, I think the pain is more acute because it is something that is not happening directly to me, but to someone I love very much, someone who is like a sister/daughter to me. And the things that she has gone through in this time have taken us to the most fundamental questions that humans struggle with. We have been slammed again and again with wave after wave of these unanswerable questions.
The knowledge that this God we trust in is described with the word “good” crashes into the reality of an overwhelming and unrelenting pain, a pain whose incongruity with that word “good” is intense to the point of mockery.
The word of God insists that He is passionate, even militant, about justice, and yet this justice seems so long in coming.
At some point as we were travelling this road, I came across these words from wise-beyond-her-years Hannah Reed. Hannah’s father Bob, a hero of mine, had suddenly and unexpectedly died a few months earlier.
Hannah’s description of the divide between the words we give lip-service to when things are not hard and the reality of the struggle to try to hold on to those promises when faced with a mountain of grief and pain captured exactly what I had been feeling throughout this whole ordeal.
Bad stuff happens. It happens to everyone, in varying degrees and in different situations. We have all experienced crisis. Many times, a response of ours is to question God. And many times we find that God is silent . . .
For most bad occurrences, I could usually find a satisfactory conclusion that allowed God to remain good in my mind, despite how bad the situation was. For example, the situation could test a person’s faith, make them a stronger person, allow them to touch lives with a story, or things like that.
It’s funny how when something happens to you personally, the questions take on so much more power then when something happens that is so far away. When Daddy died, the questions that began forming were absolutely overwhelming. I didn’t understand where God was when Dad was sick, didn’t understand why He would allow such a strong, smart, kind man to die when there was still so much good that could be done with his life. I didn’t understand why God would allow my family and me to hurt so badly. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t see the good in such situations as this.
And God was silent. I couldn’t hear Him. He didn’t give me a logical answer, didn’t write on my wall, and didn’t give me an epiphany. He felt distant, and I felt abandoned and alone in my grief . . . it didn’t seem fair or right or just or loving or any of the things that God promised to be and give to us as children that He professed to love.
Like myself and the friend I have been walking with, Hannah had found a place where words could not quite reach. She understands, and at far too young an age, that the faith we give lip-service to can ring hollow when those promises are tested beyond what we ever thought we could endure. And when the world has beaten you down and you are beyond the place where any words you’ve ever spoken can even begin to touch the immensity of your pain, you have come to the place where words can’t reach. What we are left with, then, is a wordless desperation and a tiny flicker of hope in the One who is the “Yes” and the “Amen” . . . the One whose final Word will finally reach that unreachable place..
Until that day, we stammer in our sadness, trying as hard as we can to learn how to sit in that silent place of suffering. Until that day, we wait and hope and carry on with broken hearts. Until that day, we continue to reside uneasily in this place where words can’t reach.