Unspeakable Tragedy

Scripture: Job 2:11–3:10; 19:23-27a

Oh God Where Are You Now?
Oh God, where are you now?
Oh Lord, say somehow
The devil is hard on my face again
The world is a hundred to one again
–Sufjan Stevens: “Oh God, Where Are You Now?”

Indie music artist Sufjan Stevens often takes up conventional questions about life, suffering, love, faith, and death in rather unconventional ways. His song Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?) has often been on my lips and percolating in my heart through seasons of turmoil, suffering, frustration, and grief. I can remember vividly a couple of years ago going on a three day silent retreat where this song was the soundtrack for those days. That might seem a contradiction, yet I never listened to or audibly sang the song during those days. It was the lament that emerged in the aftermath of the death of a seminary friend to cancer.

I knew God hadn’t left me, but in those days it was hard to sense God’s presence. Sufjan’s song became a sort of psalm for my aching heart, bewildered intellect, and my outraged instinct. I needed to acknowledge the depth of my sorrow and the deep longing to find God in the messiness of my life. This song was a friend that made room for me in the silence of suffering.

In the story of Job, the suffering follower of God is visited by friends who weep with Job and sit in silence with Job for seven days and seven nights. Scripture records that, “none spoke a word to him for they saw how very great was his suffering.” I have sat with dear friends, church members, and family into the midnight hour, but I must confess that too often I was not silent. I’ve offered well-meaning, but insensitive religious cliches, and rambled on to fill the silence with the sound of my voice. I try to lean into the moment. I want to make room for others’ suffering, unwieldy questions, and heavy anguish. Yet too often I’d rather get people to something safer sooner than their souls need. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

How can we meet others in their suffering?

Have you ever experienced someone who could bear witness to your suffering? If so, then what was that like?

What might make being with someone in silence so uncomfortable?

Have you made room for your own unwieldy questions, suffering, and anguish?

What are some ‘psalms’ (in the Bible or otherwise) that speak to you in your suffering?

How does God speak to us in our suffering?