Over the summer we have been running holiday clubs for the young people we work with. Two weeks ago we ran a holiday club called ‘Get Lost’. As part of this we took the young people out on day trips all over the place. One particular day we took them to the Manifold Valley to go and visit Thor’s Cave. The weather forecast was for showers around 5pm. That was ok because by then we would be safely back in the warmth of the mini bus and on our way back home. As we walked down the valley, a walk of roughly six miles there and six miles back, all was ok. They moaned and groaned a little as they walked, but everyone seemed in reasonable spirits. We arrived at Thor’s Cave, (a lot further than they imagined it would be), sat down to eat our lunch and then some of us proceeded to climb up to the cave. As we were coming down that’s when it happened; the heavens opened and the rain came.
I don’t know if you have ever walked with 20 teenagers before, but as we trudged back all enthusiasm was beginning to be washed out of them. The inevitable questions came to us, the leaders, from individuals at various intervals… “How much further is it?” Amy, one of the leaders, asked the young people if they wanted the “honest answer” or her “hopeful answer”. Every single one of them said “the honest one” and so she responded and said “I have no idea”. When that answer wasn’t good enough for them they asked her “what about the hopeful one?” So Amy answered “If you keep walking you will get to the end.”
Life is tough. I am guessing you will all have figured that out now. At our church we are currently facing the loss of a key member of our family. Life is uncertain and we seem to face lots of unexpected challenges and questions. I find myself right now much like one of those teenagers walking down the Manifold Valley, drowning in the rain of questions and doubts. I find myself asking the same questions as the teenagers, “how far is it?”
“How far is it till the pain stops?”
“How far is it till bad things stop happening?”
Questions like these are at the heart of faith. Faith isn’t about knowing and having all the answers. Faith is about dancing in the rain of questions and doubts.
I am reminded of the story of Job. The story of Job starts in heaven. Satan, the adversary, claims to God that Job is only righteous because he is wealthy and comfortable. Satan asks God whether he can test him, to which God says “Yes”. He wipes out Job’s 10 children, his possessions and gives him a nasty skin disease to boot. Whilst mourning the death of his children, three friends increasingly challenge and berate him, suggesting that he must have seriously done something wrong to have received such a fate. Job then questions God regarding his suffering; finds Him to be unjust and speaks harshly against God. A fourth companion enters the story, Elihu and it is Elihu’s speech that creates the basis for theodicy. He rebukes the people, tells them God is never wrong, always merciful and that we cannot know or comprehend all that God does. There are greater things than us that we do not and cannot understand. God then turns up, confirms this position and tells everyone that Job is a righteous man and that the three people who mocked him should make a sacrifice and that Job will forgive them. The story ends with Job receiving his wealth back several fold, having another 10 children and living for another 140 years.
I have read the book of Job countless number of times trying to gain perspective as to what the reason for all the bad stuff happening is and the more I do, the more I believe we must learn to embrace our questions, rather than letting them tear us down. If you are like those teenagers in the Manifold Valley and are facing a tough time; if you are wondering how much longer there is to go or how much strength you have left, then I give the honest answer and say ‘I don’t know’, but if you want the hopeful one I say, ‘put one foot in front of the other and you will find your way through it’.
Embrace the rain and learn to dance in the rain of questions and doubts.