Monday, August 29, 2011

A Man Walks Alone

Jacob wrestled...and lived.
The summer heat is still oppressive, even after ten thirty at night. He can see stars; the night is clear and dark, with no moon. The occasional streetlamp interrupts with yellow smear the open blackness of sky.

But all that is peripheral. His footsteps pad on as silently as his internalized ire against the idea of God—an omniscient, omnipotent God who makes choices because He can. In this the man feels disregarded, discarded, rejected. Far from playing the victim or feeling pitiful, the man is instead indignant.

He walks to clear the air, clear his head, take his case to the God he has been serving now for the better part of these last twenty-one years. It’s hard for him not to feel hoodwinked, as if he bought a load of rubbish all those years ago, and he curses vain faith, empty hope, the life he lives that, though it protests, tastes more like death in the experience. There are those around him who insist the Christian walk is all victory and dancing and joy, a nonstop party. But his own journey has been far different, filled up with pain and suffering, want, questions without answer, bottomless paradox, delayed gratification, destruction and failure.

“What does it mean?” he mumbles under his breath, conscious of the fact that he’s out in public and talking to himself—though the roads are deserted—he’s still preemptively embarrassed about the appearance he makes.

There’s no answer.

He’s been asking this question for a few days now though, because this latest chapter in the book of his life has been particularly difficult for him. He’s prayed about it too, and the answer God provided to his questions was simply to ask him, What could be the purpose of this season in your life?

“Perhaps it means I’m being chastened for something. I’m certainly not blameless.”

Silence.

“Perhaps the purpose of the pain of this season is simply the pain itself.”

Silence.

He walks on, platitudes and clich├ęs circling his head like vultures. “But that’s circular logic, and empty,” he mumbles, the whisper resounding deep and soft within his chest as he turns onto a dark side road. Headlights rake him in a pair of stabbing arcs as a car backs out of a driveway ahead, then drives past him. He’s irritated that his walk for answers is interrupted by things like this; and his hatred for people in general grows within him. The world is stacked against his ambitions, keeping them down, jumping up and down on them, bullying them back into his heart. No man really understands him, and that makes them all enemies.

Silence.

“The pain is the purpose? What utter bullshit.” He’s upset. “No. Don’t tell me that the pain is the purpose of this season. You expect me to believe that? You know what—You know I need something to believe in. Something besides, ‘the pain is the purpose.’ So speak to me. I need something besides empty faith and wandering chaos; I need something real.” Something more real than my pain, he thinks.

Silence.

The man walks, a streetlight punctuating the night above him, interrupting his solitude, blinding him with a chemical yellow spray that invades him, itches his mind.

An eighth of a mile or so, and he approaches an intersection with a signal light and a large public school on the corner. He turns to walk across the empty parking lot as a lone bicyclist passes from one side to another in the darkness.

Do you trust me?

Internally, he’s staggered for a moment. God has spoken. “Do I trust you?” the man walks, considers. “So that’s why we’re out here tonight.”

We’re going to find out if I trust You, he thinks. Given how difficult life has been for me, the things You’ve thrown me into from the very beginning, in Your wisdom and omnipotence and omniscience, I guess I’d like to know if I want to trust You. Maybe that’s the question I should be asking, he thinks. “Why should I trust You?”

Silence.

The man walks on, gaining the smoothness of a wide white sidewalk alongside a main roadway with five lanes, and cars go by randomly, blinding him. A car and truck are lost right then and u-turn right in front of him, sweeping him with their headlights and all he wants to do is hide. “You know,” he says after they pass by, “maybe all the times I prayed for wisdom and understanding, I didn’t really know what it was I was asking for. Maybe from Your perspective it made perfect sense to give me pain when I asked for understanding, for how better to gain that for which I had asked? Maybe when I asked for wisdom it made sense to give me failure, because what better teacher of wisdom could there be?” More steps, more walking. “It’s my ignorance that has betrayed me, isn’t it. But what kind of Father gives such things to a son? I mean, why didn’t You warn me about—”

Two BMX cyclists shoot alongside the man as he walks, their freewheels whizzing predatorially, and he jumps a little as they pass him in the dark. Just as quickly, they’re gone, and he begins to recover a little.

“Do I trust You. I want to answer quickly, out of fear. I don’t want to lose You. Sick as that sounds to me right now, because mostly belonging to You has meant pain and suffering in my life. But I want to be careful with my answer and know that I mean what I say, that it’s not too hasty, because…because I feel like what happens after I make my decision…after I give my answer…will be important. Because I fear you.”

He walks on to the corner, the signal light, touches it like a goal and turns back toward home. The heat is stifling and he feels the prickle of sweat on his body, the occasional tickle of a gnat as it tangles in the hair of his arms, fouling its wings until he swipes it away, smearing it on him unintentionally.

“Do I trust You?”

Silence.

“Do I want to trust You. Do I want to throw in my hand for more punishment? More difficulty? More testing? More lack? More of the same begging for table scraps, settling for a bare life of subsistence in the desert of Your Will for my unlooked-for life? After all, what else have I learned? What kind of son is expected to settle for crumbs, huddling in fear under the Master’s table? It reminds me of my childhood, when I was small…”

Silence.

“Well? What else am I supposed to think? What else am I supposed to learn from constant trial other than that You despise me, that You reject me, that I have not yet paid whatever price You require me to pay? What else am I supposed to do besides walk on alone when I’ve been abandoned to the fangs of the world, the opposition of evil people? My very life started off with You, in Your wisdom and understanding, throwing me to the wolves. You know what I’m talking about; you know how evil that woman is. Where was my choice? Where was my free will? Where was my chance for bettering myself? And where is it now?”

Silence.

“You know what, look at me. Look at me in my life; how I have tried to follow You, how I have looked for You in the wildernesses of my life and prayed to discern Your will for me, for my family. Why would I have done any of the things I’ve done, why would I have walked forward in utter darkness through any of the open doors You’ve placed before me in my life if I didn’t trust You? Why would I be out here, walking in the middle of the night and talking to the Invisible God if I didn’t trust You? I mean, why else would I be here, now, in this hurricane of circumstance, in need of the very God who smites me, if I didn’t trust You?”

Silence.

“Do I trust You? Are you fucking kidding me?”

The man walks home in the darkness. It’s stiflingly hot. And silent.

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