The Lesson of Shiva
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Job 2:11-13 – “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
Recently, I spoke with someone who had lost a loved one. This person asked me why God would allow this and why they couldn’t hear Him to soothe her soul.
When you are an attentive listener who desires to see your friend or loved one out of that pain, no words or pithy clichés can soothe it. Typically in those moments of existing in suffering, pain, loss and grief, we have well-intended people attempt to speak into our “dark nights of our souls” to try to get us out of that place. It’s uncomfortable and we don’t know what to do with the weighty silence. That’s why the book of Job is such a seemingly dangerous, avoidable book in the Bible. Nevertheless, there is a reason why it is for us to read and know about the landscape of suffering. But why?
Several months ago, I began exploring the concept of sitting Shiva; it is a seven day participatory action of Jewish mourners when loved ones pass away. There are many thought-filled customs and traditions included in Shiva that are touching and intentional in its ministry for the grieving families and the Jewish community. This is what we see in Job 2:11-13 as Job’s friends join him in his world of loss and grief. That part of the passage is well-known and familiar, but as I read this in the past for those times of grief, it still didn’t answer the questions of “Where is God and His voice in this time of suffering? Why is there a deafening silence?”
I kept coming back to different verses that caringly eased me into remembrance of who God is in these moments of tribulation: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15), The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18), Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
I thought about how these verses connect to the complexities of Job, suffering, and where God is in the sinking silence produced by loss. THEN it hit me…While Job’s friends were sitting Shiva with him, so was the Godhead! When we sit in our sufferings, griefs, and losses and it APPEARS that God doesn’t care when we are crying out and can’t hear or feel Him in prayer, or reading the word, or interacting with God’s people, I believe God is allowing the sacredness of silence to be present, but not because He is unsympathetic. I believe He willingly and tenderly cups His hands to catch our tears, weeps over the throbbing, palpable pain we feel and listens intently when we pour out our hearts. He is grieving alongside us—knowing that mere words will cheat us out of experiencing His unexplainably deep comfort and processing the importance of the relationship we had with that significant item, person, job, expectation, health, dream, or whatever treasured thing that has been lost. Careless and poorly-timed usage of words or assumptions as to why suffering and grief has come into someone’s life will and can adulterate the interchange between God and His child.
I am not proposing that hearing and believing this will take away the pain, but I suggest it is because of what His word says about how and where He is when we are faced with the grief or the end of something in our lives. So beloved, if grief and suffering has entered your life recently, know that He sits with us, He is truly near to us, He sees us, and He grieves with us—even if we can’t feel it initially.
This blog post was written and submitted by Tammy Miller, MAT, LSW. Tammy works out of our North Canton office.