Starting tomorrow, I'll be out of the office for a while. First, I'm headed on a tour of the national parks and monuments of Utah and northern Arizona. Then, I'm headed to Salt Lake City for General Convention. The focus of this blog will shift from lectionary-based musings to General Convention analysis. But I can't leave without embracing this coming Sunday's Track 2 lesson from Job. It's too good to pass by.
In Job 38, God speaks to the suffering one and declares,
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know!
Boom! Snap! Oh no he didn't!
Of course, when God speaks, humanity listens. But, when God starts mocking our pride and self-importance, the whole earth shakes. Is there any more damning language for the twenty-first century?
Job is a heartbreaking story. You can isolate any number of its passages to portray a tender, loving tale of faith. It speaks of Job's faithfulness in the face of disaster. It tells of remarkable patience despite adversity. It encourages perseverance even when abandoned by everyone else. But is that the real message of Job?
If you read the whole book--and it's been a long time since I have--you reach three conclusions that are unfathomable to contemporary society:
- Bad things happen to good people.
- God is behind human suffering--whether as active agent or passive permitter.
- We don't get to know why.
Who do you think you are? Who the heck do you think you are?
Actually, on the other side of some heartwrenching, agonizing, and suffering, we hear these words as true and lasting hope. Yes, we must endure the pain of "Why, God?" but on the other side we are comforted with the answer, "Just because."
If you think that answer is harsh and insensitive, you should dive more fully into unjust suffering and see what other possible satisfying answers there are. Vengeance? Evil at work? Random chance? Good luck finding hope in any of those. The only hope we have is that God is bigger than anything that threatens us. Do we get to understand why stuff happens? Not in this life, and maybe not even in the next. But we do get to hold on to faith that God is with us in our suffering--not asleep, not absent, not powerless--but present and active. It doesn't make the pain go away--nothing can. But it does mean that we are not alone and that we have real hope.