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When the Non-Answer Is the Only Answer There Is

Photo by Chaimaa Sekouri on Unsplash

In the original Hebrew language of the Bible, there are beautiful nuances that are lost in the translation to other languages. Sometimes coming back to the original Hebrew brings passages alive with even more depth and revelation.

One of those passages is Psalm 22:3 (Complete Jewish Bible – numbering is different in the Hebrew Bible by one. All other versions, this is Psalm 22:2):

My G-d, by day I call to you,

but you don’t answer;

likewise at night,

but I get no relief.

This passage speaks to all the anguish in the hearts of men and women throughout the ages who have gone through deep trials and tribulations. In our darkest nights, we wonder if the Father is really there.

In the original Hebrew, the word “answer” is ‘anah. It means “to be occupied with, to be busied with.” The word is proceeded by lo, which means “no” or “not.” In essence, David is crying out to G-d, asking Him why He cannot answer him, why He cannot be occupied with the trials that David, the writer of this verse, is going through.

But in the nuances of the original Hebrew, it turns out that the word “afflicted” is also ‘anah. To be afflicted is to be depressed, downcast, or weakened. It is something that causes pain or trouble.

In English, we call these words homographs – words that are spelled alike but have different meanings and are sometimes pronounced just a little differently. Some examples of these in English are bat (a flying mammal or stick to hit a baseball with), wind (a breeze or to turn something rotationally), and minute (an increment of time or something very small). Because of the number of cultures that contribute to our language, word puns in English are very rare. But in Hebrew? They're all over the place, but they're not usually meant as humorous. They're a play on words that give us deeper insight into a verse.

Going back to the original verse, we find David crying out, “G-d! I call to you! But you lo ‘anah in my ‘anah and I have no relief!” David is equating his affliction with G-d's non-answer. As Skip Moen so succinctly puts it, “There are many, many trials and tribulations in this world, but none of them cuts as deeply nor wounds as fatally as the silence of G-d. Affliction is, finally, life without His answer.” We sit and wait for something from heaven and we are met with deafening silence.

Do you recognize this? Have you felt this in your life before? I dare say we all have. We petition heaven and get no direction or comfort in return. Are we condemned to this silence? Is there no answer? There is, but it may not be what we’re looking for. It involves pure, undefiled faith that is so hard to accept as any solution at all when we’re in agony of spirit.

However, it is the only thing that frees us.

Verse 4 of the CJB version gives us the response (verse 3 in all others):

Nevertheless you are holy…

I know you're waiting for something more, but that's it. I know you're thinking, “That’s not an answer!” but it is, and it is the only one that can satisfy. This verse tells us that G-d is incorruptible, is not capricious, is wholly perfect and whatever He does is done in absolute moral perfection. It matters not if He has grace, compassion, and mercy if He cannot be trusted to be absolutely incorruptible or the essence of moral perfection.

It tells us that He is in control, that He is reliable and that He is trustworthy. But what it does require is for us to relinquish having to know everything and be in control of everything. It requires us to accept that we will not know all things or the purpose of all things in this life. Only in olam haba (the world to come) will we know and be known fully. It requires us to accept the non-answer as the answer for the time being, and to totally trust in the holiness of the Creator who is not capable of immoral action.

Even when we cannot understand the ways of G-d, we can be assured of His holiness, and we can always count on the integrity of His character and who He is. Sometimes, that is the only answer that is capable of providing a balm for our souls when our world is covered in darkness.

Sometimes, G-d’s holiness is the only light that can shine through those times of lo ‘anah and ‘anah and give us peace.

Hanne Moon

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You will see that I write the word “G-d” without the vowel in my postings. This is a personal decision and not a religious requirement that I follow. I do this as a reminder to myself of who He is, that by invoking His title as Creator of all, a measure of respect and awe is demanded. This is a personal decision of my own, to always remind me that He is holy and that I must not profane His name with anything that I write.

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