I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The LORD gave me what I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”
Since all standard hymns have been edited to delete inferior stanzas and since any stanza of the average hymn can be sung in less than one minute … and since many of our best hymns have already been shortened as much as good taste will allow, we are forced to conclude that the habit of omitting the third stanza reveals religious boredom, pure and simple, and it would do our souls good if we would admit it.
As we begin to trust God more, we enjoy a certain freedom from our vices and may often experience great satisfaction in our spiritual endeavors. When God decides we are ready, he invites us to a new level of self-knowledge. God withdraws the initial consolations of conversion, and we are plunged in darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. We think that God has abandoned us.… Then comes a period of peace, enjoyment of a new inner freedom, the wonder of new insights. That takes time. Rarely is there a sudden movement to a new level of awareness that is permanent. What happens when we get to the bottom of the pile of our emotional debris? We are in divine union. There is no other obstacle.
The second and third readings are cause and effect.
When our worship becomes dry, when our spiritual lives exist in a state of boredom, we need God to take action.
But I will warn you, it isn’t pretty. It may not be as dramatic as Job encounters, but it will feel like it at times. (It does for me today) The classic devotional text The Dark Night of the Soul, also documents this, and how God allows Satan to strike us, for our good.
Like Job, the journey isn’t easy, like Job the challenges overwhelm us, and we find ourselves at the point of despair, and we will accuse God of abandoning us. That accusation may come with surprising force, because it comes from the darkest regions of our heart and soul.
God hears the accusation as a prayer. A cry for help that will be answered in a way that Keaton recognizes is full of peace. We abandon ourselves into the hands of a loving, merciful God, and are willing to see what He will do, for there is nothing else. Everything, including our hearts and minds are emptied out, and He is there… and that is what we need.
For we realize it is a blessed thing for God to take away what divides us from Him. That is part of His healing ministry.
Oddly enough, this healing work, stripping us of all that isn’t of God–that is the content of many of those “third verses” that Tozer laments the loss of. Consider this one
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought (a thought)
My sin, not in part, but the whole (every bit, every bit, all of it)
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more (yes)
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
(from It is Well with My Soul!)
God is with us…Blessed Be His Name!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 179.