Susanna got in the way of my having a perfect life. It's nothing she did; it's something that was done to her. Worse than that, it's something that God did to her.
Five and a half years ago, Susanna's three sons, hale men in their 20s, died in a boating mishap on the same day. Her husband and she were already divorced. Her Christian daughter subsequently renounced her faith-and her mother.
I happened to be in the home of a friend of a friend of Susanna's when the news of the accident came that spring. But I didn't know the woman. Didn't want to know her. Our paths finally crossed last month at a retreat.
A retreat, imagine. She asked to come to my room and chat. Just before that, a woman in the last session had raised her hand and asked how we can be joyful when we're always "waiting for the other shoe to drop."
I offered sound theology: "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise" (James 5:13). Someone else did better: "Life is like a fairy tale where a lot of bad things happen in the middle, but the ending is happy. Think about the ending."
Sitting in my room with Susanna, I gave up all thought of saying a helpful word, though that's why she had come. I was scandalized myself. I felt like David when God struck Uzzah because he touched the ark. "David was angry because the Lord had burst forth against Uzzah. . . . And David was afraid of the Lord that day" (2 Samuel 6:8-9). God had killed the hapless cart man in the middle of a worship dance to the accompaniment of "songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals."
Susanna does not fit in my theology. She is like Psalm 88, a chapter of the Bible that you always hope won't be there next time you open it. Some other Psalms start poorly but have soaring endings. Psalm 88 has no ray of hope.
At one point in the retreat I had read selections from Children's Letters to God:
"Dear God, In school they told us what you do. Who does it when you're on vacation? Erin"
"Dear God, Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones why don't you just keep the ones you got now? Jane"
"Dear God, If you let the dinosaur not extinct we would not have a country. You did the right thing. Jonathan"
"Dear God, If you give me a genie lamp like Alladin, I will give you anything you want except my money or my chess set. Raphel"
What makes the letters cute is that the kids are clueless and yet they're giving God advice.
I went home and read all of Job.
God gave Job no answers. Nor did He apologize. He is God, He does as He pleases. We are all clueless, like children, and yet would give Him advice. He tells us that He is good. There is nothing to do with that but accept it or reject it. Job's wife rejected it, as did Susanna's daughter: "Curse God and die," they said. That's a choice.
I told two of my friends, independently of each other, the story of Susanna, thinking I would rattle their faith too, thinking I was presenting them with a theological Gordian Knot. I thought we would do a little hand-wringing together and flirting with doubts. They surprised me and said, in effect, "It all comes down to trusting Him."
Writer Anne Lamott tells the story of a little boy locked in his room and afraid. But his mother reaches under the door and finds his fingers, and he is consoled enough to wait for the locksmith who's coming in a while. This is the best we will do with Susanna: God's presence and His promise.
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2). That would be me, Lord.
"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (Job 42:2-3).