Then, I always like to introduce for the congregation one special defense mechanism, by Job in Job 23. This story is set in the midst of Job’s dialogue with his so-called friends. Job had experienced the loss of his family, friends, wealth, and everything else he had in his life. The wife had even said to him, “Just curse God and die!”. He had endured all kinds of losses. Further, in Job 23, he suffered because God was eluding him. He couldn’t feel that God was hearing his pain. Job only experienced God’s silence in the midst of his sufferings. Job cried out his anguish and deep frustration in the face of the absence of God. Job felt isolated and far from God. In verses 8-9, Job writes, “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” Job’s defense mechanism was to cry out, lament, doubt and even complain to God about the experiencing God’s abandonment.
Sometimes, I hear people decide not to be a person of faith any longer because of their experience of God’s absence in the midst of human sufferings, such as the horrible suffering of children, terrorism, war, the issue of poverty, etc. They ask me: “If God is here, how can God let those things happen?” Or too often, people just resign themselves to their misfortune, saying: “It must be the Lord’s will; I guess we'll just have to accept it.” Or, people just abandon faith in God altogether. However, Job offers a different way -- the defense mechanism of the faith. He is unwilling to accept suffering passively, but he also refuses to abandon his faith! He argued with God and looked for the meaning of his suffering with God.
In Job 23:10, Job writes, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.” It means we complain, lament, and cry with God, we also are continuing our personal relationship with God and devotion to God, and almost never give up hope in the midst of suffering. Job knew that when his sufferings were over, he would emerge from them stronger and brighter than ever before.
However, some congregations have only learned to ignore their trauma or pains, unfortunately. They have been forced in the idea that good Christians don’t complain anything. Some pastors preach that if you had strong faith, you would not cry and lament, but would be grateful or joyful. They have learned not to question and have doubts about their life situations. They learned that good Christians can handle anything and have firm faith, as if they are being almighty like God. In the Church, expressing struggles or trauma is often regarded as a sign of weakness or inadequate faith. Some congregations have only practiced being silent about their sufferings rather than to arguing with God and seeking meaning in their sufferings.
Unfortunately, many pastors do not often realize that their congregations have different defense mechanisms in order to protect themselves when a church goes through different traumas, painful terror, financial struggles, loss, etc. The congregation as one body of the community tries to forget and deny what really happened in the past. Congregations work together to achieve numbness to repress painful or uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes, congregations take out their frustrations or anger on their pastors when they have had really bad experiences. Sometimes, congregations try to focus on using various programs to take away their trauma. Many of them could not even have a faithful chance to cry out, lament, or even to complain with God like Job did.
Are pastors or congregations really aware of the defense mechanisms in their community? Can we as pastors or congregations actively argue with God and ask God the meaning of our suffering by congregational trauma? Do you have the faith to allow congregations to complain, lament, and cry out with God in the middle of our great despairs? Do we really try to understand the defense mechanisms in our congregation?
Knowing about our congregations’ defense mechanisms invites healing and the embrace of our congregational trauma as part of a spiritual practice of wholeness.