they wrestled till dawn and he left limping (photo Jeff Ruane, Creative Commons)

Fist Fighting with God

Last week we found out our sixth baby had died.  Two weeks before there had been a much better scan, we saw a tiny baby and a tiny heartbeat and we were briefly very happy.  I say briefly because we had been there before and the heartbeat, somewhere along the way had stopped, and so it happened again.  At some point in time, as we carried on our lives and allowing hope to grow, that tiny heartbeat stopped.  We prayed for our baby.   Our friends prayed for our baby.   People we don’t even know prayed for our baby.  So why does the passionately loving, all powerful God do nothing?

There are neat little answers to that question and each and every one of them makes me want to punch whoever says it in their face.  I don’t of course, I force a smile, make a non-committal sound and move on.  I know that people mean well with these sentiments but they have all the diplomacy of an atomic bomb.  When you enter the arena of grief, leave your simple answers behind.  Comfort when you’re hurting looks like our friends who gathered around our house the other night to cry and to pray with us.  Fresh from trauma it is hard to cry and even harder to pray, like Job all you can do is sit in silence and so those tears became our tears and those prayers our prayers (Job 2:12-13).  I am so grateful for our friends and family, that when God made everything, from extraordinary solar systems to intricate biology, he saw a lonely man and knew that it was not good.

Job did not get the comfort we got; his wife told him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).  You don’t get that on sympathy cards but it is for me the way I want to react.  It’s the atheist taunt; it’s my high school chemistry teacher, every stand-up comedian on TV and that violent thought; ‘God’s not here, he’s not anywhere, it’s just pain and then you die’.  I never have, or could have, gone all the way to agreeing with that taunt but I have gone a long way towards it by distancing God from the situation, by simply ignoring the inconvenience of his presence in our pain.  This time however, he would not let me do that.  A few weeks ago, within the space of a couple of days, three people who didn’t know each other, and one who didn’t know about the pregnancy, told us that they had been praying for us and felt that Psalm 139 was important.  Immediately I scoured that song for anything that would say everything would be alright.  It’s not there.  The only assurance is that in the highs and the lows, in absolutely everything, God would be there.  In my wife’s pain, in the baby’s death, God was there.  God is being pastorally insensitive; he gave a grieving couple a passage about knitting babies together in the womb!  Did he fail to knit?  Did he choose not to?  Did he give up?  And so now is where I give an amazing insight which ties it all together and make everything right.  Sorry, I don’t have one of those.  What I have is God coming to us in our most painful times and confronting us with even more uncomfortable truths.  To be honest I like this about God, I avoid the difficult bits of the bible, most of us do, it’s easier that way but that’s not God’s way, he would much rather we have a fist fight with him (Genesis 32:22-32).

When we get as close to God as that, his pure light exposes some ugly stuff in us (Psalm 139:23-24), it certainly exposed an uncomfortable truth in me.  With each miscarriage the desire to have children grew stronger in me to the point where the thought of never having children I now find pretty devastating, even shameful.  If we got to our old age and had told loads of people about Jesus but had no kids I realised I would feel somehow empty, somehow a failure.

What if God never answers this prayer!?

Am I really living for God, for his people and his new reality if everything I pray for is for now?  Am I truly longing for those distant shores if I set up home here and ask for everything now?  Am I actually not like the younger son who wants his inheritance now and screw God (Luke 15:11-31)?  God exposed the uncomfortable truth that I’m living for now and not for him, and I imagine that if I give him time he’ll loosen my grip on all these nice and present things.

This doesn’t make everything alright, it doesn’t answer anything really.  I don’t believe for a second that God allowed our baby to die so I could get some spiritual insight.  When Jacob met God they wrestled till dawn and he left limping.  From that moment God’s people were named as those who fight with God (Genesis 32:22-32).  God’s people walk with a limp.  I have always imagined a spiritual person as monk-like; peaceful, serene and full of profound answers.  I am discovering that following God actually has very little to do with that or with neat answers; it looks a lot more like two men meeting in the middle of the night to fight until dawn.