Sitting on the Ash Pile




Let’s be honest. Whether you are Orthodox or not, there are times when life really sucks. At such moments, we wonder where God is and why He allows bad things to happen to “good” people. The philosopher Hume once said that the question of evil is the hook upon which all philosophy comes to hang. It seems that when bad things happen to us, we are often too ready to hang our faith on the same hook.

This scripture lesson came up the other day: “We would not have you ignorant, brethren, of the trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed beyond measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” (2Corinthians 1.8) “Despaired even of life”- now that must have been a really bad situation. I’ve been in some tough spots, but never any that bad. Why w ould God let such things happen to his chosen disciples? I can understand some sacrifice, some opposition, and a few nights in jail, but to despair of life? Isn’t that a bit much?

For philosophers, the Book of Job has never answered the question of the nature and origin of evil. Job, the righteous, not only suffered the loss of all of his material possessions and bodily health, he lost seven children in one night. In his terrible grief, he sat on an ash heap while his friends tried to comfort him by engaging in a theological debate. Certainly, since God is just and only punishes the wicked, they argued, Job must have committed some sin which resulted in his punishment. Job protested that he was innocent and didn’t deserve such treatment. At the end of the Book, God made an appearance and you think that we will finally get the answer to the experience of suffering.

Let me paraphrase the next part. God asks Job that if he had been around when He created the universe, could he have advised God on where to put the stars or how to set the bounds of the sea. Job replies that he could not have advised God.  God then concludes that even if he explained evil and suffering to Job, he wouldn’t understand it.

All right, I get it, but it doesn’t satisfy my intellect at all. Then Job says something interesting: “I’ve heard about you, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore, lI abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42) As I said before, this is not an answer that satisfies the philosopher, but it satisfies the Christian. It is the Presence that resolves all issues. It also gave meaning to the experience of St. Paul in Asia. “We had the sentence of death in us, so that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raises the dead…” I marvel at this statement and at the faith and understanding it exhibits. Again, this doesn’t explain why bad things happen, but it shows that when the Lord lives in our hearts, there is deeper meaning and purpose to all of life, including the bad times.

You learn this lesson when you stand beside a widow during a funeral reception. People come forward and say some of the worst things you could say in a situation like that. I know that they want to try and console the widow because they love her. I also know that they want the grieving to stop because most of us are uncomfortable in the presence of grief. We just feel that there must be something that we can say that will help. In the presence of profound grief, theological debates will have not resolve the pain. It is the Presence that makes the difference, and so, you stand by the widow and say nothing. You endure the uncomfortable feeling of helplessness, and your continued silent presence does more to comfort than any word that you could say.

We need not hang on the hook of Hume because there is One that hung on a Cross. He is with us even when we despair of life, and gives meaning to the ash pile.

One Response to “Sitting on the Ash Pile”

  1. James the Thickheaded Says:

    Thank you for writing. Just wrote a note to a friend whose wife’s father just died. Find I’ve had to do this so much this year I’m a bit behind. Tend to reflect too much. Sent it off into the aether. Then I read your blog. ‘Course I had to go back and look at my note. So how do I spell r-e-l-i-e-f? And how do I give thanks for a good guardian angel who was on duty this time?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: