The Ashes of Why
“Why is light given to one in misery,
and life to the bitter in soul,
who long for death, but it does not come,
and dig for it more than for hidden treasures;
who rejoice exceedingly,
and are glad when they find the grave?”
In the book of Job we find an innocent, God-fearing man who is stripped of everything that defines basic human existence. Health, wealth, family, and food are all pulled out from under his feet. He is left to fall to the ground, to sprinkle and inhale the ashes. Welcome to the world’s worst reality. For Job, death or nonexistence would be far better than sitting in the ashes of “why.”
Hearing his cries, Job’s friends gather to sift the ashes and try to step into the landscape of his loss. For a whole week they stay silent. Then, like many of us often do, Job’s friends try to fix things. With only good intentions, they offer the best possible explanations humans can give when they’re holding the ashes of memories.
But Job doesn’t hear them speaking. His ears are shut because he is pleading his case before God alone. Only God can clear the ashes from Job’s frame. Only the voice from heaven is audible. Job can only see the light that scorches his back with blisters. Job cries out, but he does not curse and turn away. Job holds on to his innocence even as he asks, “God! Are you really wise?”
Job’s shouts do not go into deep space unheard. From Job we learn that without God there is no “why” . . . there are no answers. And that is enough for now.
In chapter 19, God’s restoring light touches Job’s soul. In faith Job is able to proclaim, “I know my redeemer lives!” (v. 25). Job is both the man crying out “Why?” in the ashes and the man grasping faith in great loss. In the end God restores Job as he restores others in the ashes of “why”—through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In my painting “The Ashes of Why” there are vertical and horizontal lines creating a subtle cross that encloses Job. That cross encloses us too, enabling us to cry with deep hope.
In the restoring light of the cross we are able to sit alongside someone who is lamenting. When we recognize lament as a cry of mature faith, we don’t have to feel the need to “fix” the problem just because it makes us uncomfortable. We can be at peace when we don’t know the answers to difficult dilemmas.
Our God is wise; our God acts. God was with Job and is with us through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who became like Job. Jesus announced God’s restoration by sending his Holy Spirit into our bodies, minds, and souls.
One day another pastor and I visited an older couple to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in their home. Marc and Vicki had been struggling together with Vicki’s memory loss from Alzheimer’s. Her disease spread so rapidly that within a few months their relationship completely altered. Now it takes all day for Marc to care for both of their needs.
On our visit, Marc was beside himself with frustration. So many plans for retirement and the joy of good memories were now exchanged for caregiving and trying to help Vicki remember. Marc cried out to us in deep aggravation for their loss. There were tears in Vicki’s eyes because she knew Marc was angry, but she didn’t understand why. We sat with silent tears. What could we say?
We ate the Lord’s Supper. We remembered the broken body and blood of Christ. Vicki and Marc took the bread and the wine. We feasted together, grasping onto the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our hearts were lifted to the table of heaven. In the presence of Jesus, we knew that the brokenness of Marc and Vicki’s experience would not win. Like Job, they found the strength to worship God and proclaim that Jesus our redeemer lives!
- How should we respond as a friend to someone in grief?
- Was Job’s wish to die a faithful response to his tragedy?
- How is the question “Why?” a part of our worship as a community in Christ?