One-year-old T., son of B., an elder in the church of Bundibugyo, Uganda, has died. The couple has lost three children now. A few years ago, resisting family pressure to appease the spirits with sacrifice to remove a curse, they stood firm in their Christian faith. They held a birthday party for little T., a thing never seen in Babwisi culture, a vehicle for bringing friends to a special service of thanksgiving. Then, without warning, T. fell sick. He was rushed to a doctor who prescribed treatment for malaria. The child died in the night.
This is about as bad as it gets, God at His most inscrutable and faith at its most sightless.
Queasy, we fly to our Bibles for solace. We find Job. We find Jeremiah preaching 40 years with little to show. You can't say we aren't warned.
My own temptations are much smaller on the Richter scale: night after night of wee hours bourgeois petitions met with silence like a wall. There is temptation to be angry at God and to disbelieve in Him-which is a ludicrous combination: "Lord, I don't believe You exist. And, by the way, I'm ticked off at You besides."
The King of Narnia and the Unicorn get wind of the murder of noble Dryads-and the report that it was Aslan's orders! "If we had died before today we should have been happy," shudders Tirian. "Would it not be better to be dead than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in and hoped for? It is as if the sun rose one day and were a black sun" (The Last Battle).
Of course it wasn't Aslan at all, it turns out, but that crafty ape, Shift, behind the deception that unsettled all the kingdom. Which the King and his consort could have known only if they knew the whole adventure from beginning to end (but no man is given to know this). All they had to go on-to hope on-was what they knew of Aslan from many a story handed down. But for now the hours are long and cruel with silence.
Although I suppose that if you were a Master bent on testing the mettle of your best servants' fealty, if you were of a mind to refine gold, or to know if it ran deeper than the plating, you might possibly use such a furnace as silence, mightn't you? And who says it's the Master that needs educating about the deep wellsprings of the heart? Where else but in the silence of a season do I myself discover who I am, what quid pro quo I had smuggled into the bargain? And if a servant's supreme good is his perfected trust, wouldn't that quality be achieved by supreme tests of trust? "Though He slay me, yet will I fear Him."
If I were honest, I would admit to the little winks in the midst of what I have tried to pass off till now as unrelenting suffering: those new-every-morning mercies of such a personal nature as to be known only to Him and me, those secret gardens of delight with Him. My friend Linda Ruth gave the best counsel for severe trial: Keep a journal of the little blessings God sends in the day; there are always some.
"Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, 'Why hast thou forsaken Me?' When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle" (C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night and Other Essays).