And I will restore to you the years the locust hath eaten . . . . (Joel 2:25)
The suffering of loss is rarely smooth for us. It is devastating when it comes suddenly, unbidden, and without apparent rhyme or reason. It is more so when, sobered by the excision, we come to understand that the loss is the consequence of our own choices and deeds. Loss stuns us, empties us, and awakens in the soul a great longing and hunger. We want things to be right again. We wish the loss to be undone, the absence to be remedied, the hole to be filled. And in this is a great temptation, for we may attempt to assuage the hunger, to fill the space with that which only further accentuates and widens the darkening emptiness that has been left.
The suffering of loss is a means for deeper consciousness for us. We may find ourselves suddenly awakened to new verities, new realities of which we may never have been aware, or the cognizance of which we may have studiously ignored. We may suddenly recognize the existence within us of the soul and its need for attention, in the way we attend to the body and its needs and desires. We may recognize that this hunger and longing which loss has awakened within us has, if you will, its own “soulish” food. We may come, to say it plainly, to an awareness of our hunger for God. And this is why the hunger and longing can be for us a temptation.
There is only one food of which the soul may be satisfied, though never surfeited, and that is the tri-personal God. The energies of God on which the soul feeds, if we may continue the metaphor, are infinite, but one. The soul will not be satisfied with anything less than God, though the infinite acts of God grant the soul endless variety. And God is not above using created means by which to satisfy the longing of the soul for the one and only Creator. The struggle is to accept the Giver within the gift. To accept the gift alone, separate from the Giver, is to divert the appetite of the soul to things which whither, die and can never satisfy.
To say it more plainly: the temptation in loss is to turn the longing for God to the longing for that which has been lost. It is good and right to mourn loss. It is often good to long for that which has been lost. But the restoration of the creature will never satisfy the need and hunger for the Creator.
God promised his people to restore the years the locust had eaten. Just a few verses later, he then promised to pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. On Pentecost, the Apostle Peter preached this promise. The restoration of all things begins and ends with the hunger for God, and the filling of that space within us. In a tender paradox, the satisfaction of our longing for God will not restore the loss we have endured. At least not always. Almost certainly not immediately. And yet . . . and yet, somehow, the tears shed are not lost, the moments of pain are not unredeemed, and there yet remains for us moments of green pasture and still waters. These oases are not the absence of loss, but the presence of God within us and for us in the midst of the valley of shadow.
Finally, this God for whom we long is not some philosopher’s god sitting enthroned in immortal impassivity ever beyond the reach of mortal flesh. No, the God for whom we long himself took on flesh, himself knew the depths of despair, himself experienced the cruel absence of that for which his soul longed: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He has in all ways been tried and pressed as we have. And in him God embraces us.