In the C.S. Lewis novel Till We Have Faces, the main character, Orual, has taken mental notes throughout her life, carefully building what she refers to as her “case” against the gods. Choosing finally to put this case formally in writing, she meticulously describes each instance where she has been wronged. It is only after Orual has finished writing that she soberly recognizes her great mistake. With a sobering blow of recognition, she sees the importance of uttering the speech at the center of one’s soul, for to have heard herself making the complaint was to be answered. She then profoundly observes that the gods used her own pen to probe the wounds. With sharpened insight Orual explains, “Till the words can be dug out of us, why should [the gods] hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face until we have faces?”(1)
Never since has a book cut open my heart and laid it before me so plainly. It was simultaneously the moment I realized how distant I had become from God and the sudden suspicion: What if God had been near all along? I had spent a lifetime subconsciously compiling my case against this God. Through more turbulent years en route to faith and belief in Christ, I stood armed with my diary of questions, taking more a stance of interrogator than glad follower. Some of my questions were milder interrogations than others; in fact, some even embodied the possibility of exoneration. But the telling detail in this perspective was that I saw myself as the one holding the judge’s gavel, while God was the one on trial.
I vividly recall the first time I realized the barrage of questions I was prepared and waiting to ask; it was not long before I would come across the pages of the book that brought me to surrender the gavel. I was reading the last chapter in the Gospel of John. In that scene, the disciples were fishing when Jesus appeared on the shoreline; this, just days after they had watched in horror as he was crucified on the Cross. No doubt with heightened anticipation, the disciples quickly drew in their nets and rushed to the shore where Jesus was preparing breakfast at the fire. John’s description places us aside a group of expectant fishermen. With bated breath we wait to hear how the silence will be broken. And then John writes, “None of the disciples dared to ask, ‘Who are you?’ For they all knew it was the savior.”(2)
It was the word dare that got under my skin. Did they not have the nerve? Not have the need? It was suddenly and intensely irritating to me that none of them dared to ask. They had every reason to ask questions: Where did you go? How are you here? Why did you have to die? Why didn’t you tell us all of this? Couldn’t you have spared us from this? What does this all mean? That the disciples were not full of questions seemed to me remarkably unnatural. It did not take me long to realize that I was so deeply bothered by their lack of asking because I did dare to ask.
The frenzied, almost illegible words in my journal still remind me how frustrated I was in that moment. In words more fired onto the page than composed, I asked everything I had ever wanted to ask of Jesus. Two weeks later, I picked up a copy of Till We Have Faces and was overcome with the absurdity of my “case”—even as I was overcome with the sureness that I had indeed been heard.
Sensing ourselves far away from God is often riddled with the suspicion that it is God’s doing, that God has left, and that we have been abandoned. It is interesting how often for me these feelings coincide with an outburst of honest writing and confession. In such moments I realize, like Orual, the importance of uttering the words at the center of one’s soul—if for nothing more than to hear in my own words the sound of my anger alongside the intensity and passion toward the very one I am complaining is absent. To hear myself making the complaint is indeed quite often to be answered. And repeatedly, these moments of despair and distance, though still difficult, nonetheless, become realizations of proximity and awareness of the God who is there in the midst of it. In the disruptive gift of such moments, I don’t dare ask who it is either.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (New York: Harcourt, 1984), 294.
(2) John 21:12.
(2) John 21:12.