As a writer, I study people. I study the way they look and move and think and talk. (Yes, your quirk of pacing while you talk on the phone could show up in one of my characters.) And I only recently noticed a common behavior associated with the popular idiomatic expression “God forbid.”
I always hear that term when people broach the subject of tragedies, something they do in an almost superstitious way, as if throwing in a “God forbid” can, indeed, persuade God to forbid. Or perhaps their meaning is more along the lines of, “But God wouldn’t allow that.”
Oh, but He does. All the time.
He permits the toddler to be diagnosed with a rare, untreatable form of cancer. He permits the father to become permanently disabled and unable to provide for his children. He permits the teenager to die suddenly of a heart attack as the result of an undiagnosed genetic defect. He permits the grandmother to forget all the people who love her and all the attributes and events that have defined her life.
What do we say of that kind of God – a God who does not forbid but who permits such horrors?
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
– Job 1:21
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
– Job 1:22
Years ago, when I was an editor at a major metropolitan newspaper, one of my writers – a good friend – was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a kind that spread like an invisible veil over the surface of his brain.
“I used to ask myself, ‘Why?’ when bad stuff happened to good people,” he told me. “But the real question should be, ‘Why not?’”
That observation stuck with me, especially as I observed his rapid and painful degeneration. Bad things happen. Why shouldn’t they happen to me too? I wondered.
Time and, perhaps, the influence of his supportive wife (“Curse God and die!” she advised him) sent Job’s attitude on a southern spiral. Why him?
“May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’ That day – may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may not light shine upon it.”
– Job 3:3-4
He begged to argue his case before God. He learned to watch what he asked for.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
– Job 38:4-5
Thus it began. Over the next few chapters, God lays out His sovereignty, omnipotence and wisdom beyond our understanding. He is God. We are not.
“I know you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures My counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. . . . My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore, I repent in dust and ashes.”
– Job 42:2-3, 5-6
I remember when my youngest son was born five weeks prematurely when I began hemorrhaging. While he was still in NICU, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The week after my son’s due date, my father-in-law died. Shortly thereafter, my husband lost his job. Then our house flooded. And I praised God through it all.
Why? God, in His mercy, allowed me to see, ever so briefly, the wisdom of His plan. My father-in-law was able to hold our son before he went to be with Jesus. By the time he began to decline, I was strong enough – despite blood loss and a cesarean section – to take care of myself and our three kids while my husband went to be with his dying dad.
As for the job, my husband wanted to start his own company – something his severance package allowed him to do. And the flood allowed for the replacement of worn flooring – an answer to prayer, especially for the price of a deductible.
However, God doesn’t always give us the grace to understand. But He does give us the grace to withstand. We may be tempted to question, but we can choose to trust.