October 12, 2016

Job - 
Job did not take his suffering quietly or piously...Job took a stance before God, and there he protested his suffering, protested mightily...he suffered in the same way we suffer...he searchingly questioned and boldly protested his suffering.... 

It is not suffering as such that troubles us.  It is undeserved suffering...there is no real correlation between the amount of wrong we commit and the amount of pain we experience...We do right and get knocked down.  We do the best we are capable of doing, and just as we are reaching out to receive our reward we are hit from the blind side and sent reeling.  This is the suffering that first bewilders and then outrages us... Job refuses to accept the role of a defeated victim...Job does not curse God...but neither does he explain suffering...suffering is a mystery and Job comes to respect the mystery....Perhaps the greatest mystery in suffering is how it can bring a person into the presence of God in a state of worship, full of wonder, love and praise....we take the good days from God--why not also take the bad days?

There is more to the book of Job than Job.  There are Job’s friends...Sufferers attract fixers the way roadkill attracts vultures.  At first we are impressed that they bother with us and amazed at their facility with answers...More often than not, these people use the Word of God frequently and loosely.  They are full of spiritual diagnosis and prescription, it all sounds so hopeful.  But then we begin to wonder, “Why is it that for all their apparent compassion we feel worse instead of better after they’ve said their piece?”...Many of the answers that Job’s so-called friends give him are technically true.  But it is the “technical” part that ruins them.  They are answers without personal relationship, intellect without intimacy....Job rejects that kind of advice and teaching that has God all figured out, that provides glib explanations for every circumstances.  Job’s honest defiance continues to be the best defense against the cliches of positive thinkers and the prattle of religious small talk...Real faith cannot be reduced to spiritual bromides and merchandised in success stories.  It is refined in the fires and the storms of pain.  There is content to biblical religion.  It is the secularization of answers that is rejected.

In our compassion, we don’t like to see people suffer.  And so our instincts are aimed at preventing and alleviating suffering.  No doubt that is a good impulse.  But if we really want to reach out to others who are suffering, we should be careful not to be like Job’s friends, not to do our “helping” with the presumption that we can fix things, get rid of them, or make them “better.”  

When we rush in to fix suffering, we need to keep in mind several things:
 - No matter how insightful we may be, we really don’t understand the full nature of our friend’s problem.
 - Our friends may not want our advice. 
 - The ironic fact of the matter is that more often than not, people do not suffer less when they are committed to following God, but more.  When these people go through suffering, their lives are often transformed, deepened, marked with beauty and holiness, in remarkable ways that could never have been anticipated before the suffering.

So instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering-...perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able --entering the mystery and looking around for God...Pity can be nearsighted and condescending;  shared suffering can be dignifying and life-changing.

...the God who appeared to Job in the whirlwind is calling out to all of us...and so we gain hope--not from the darkness of our suffering, not from the pat answers in books, but from the God who sees our suffering and shares our pain...Every time we let Job give voice to our own questions, our suffering gains in dignity and we are brought a step closer to the threshold of the voice and mystery of God..The mystery of God eclipses the darkness & the struggle.

Job 1-2 - 
Job was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God...he had 7 sons and 3 daughters.  He was also very wealthy.  

One day when the angels came to report to God, Satan, who was the Designated Accuser, came along with them.  God singled out Satan and said, “What have you been up to?”...God said “have you noticed my friend Job?  There is no one quite like him-honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil.”  Satan retorted, “So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?  Why, no one ever had it so good!  You pamper him like a pet....blessed everything he does--he can’t lose!  But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away everything that is his?  He’d curse you right in your face, that’s what.”   God replied, “We’ll see.  Go ahead--do what you want with all that is his.  Just don’t hurt him...

Four messengers came, one right after the other with messages that his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels and all of his children were killed in separate incidents.  Job got to his feet, ripped his robe, shaved his head, then fell to the ground and worshipped- “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.  God gives, God takes.  God’s name be ever blessed.”  
God again singled out Satan and said, “What have you been up to?”...God said “have you noticed my friend Job?  There is no one quite like him-honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil.”  He still has a firm grip on his integrity.  You tried to trick me into destroying him, but it didn’t work.”  Satan answered, “A human would do anything to save his life.  But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away his health?”  God replied, “We’ll see.  Go ahead-- 

Job was struck with terrible sores, ulcers and scabs.... Job’s wife said, “Still holding on to your precious integrity are you?  Curse God and be done with it.”  Job told her,  “You’re talking like an empty-headed fool.  We take the good days from God --why not also take the bad days?” Not once through all this did Job sin; not once did he blame God....

Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him.. Eliphaz, Bilbad & Zophar went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him....7 days and nights they sat there without saying a word.  They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.
Matthew 13:1-13:23 - 
Using a boat as a pulpit, Jesus addressed his congregation, telling stories.  “What do you make of this?  A farmer planted seeds..some fell on the road...some fell on the gravel...some fell in the weeds...some fell on good earth --Are you listening to this?  Really listening?”  

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”  He replied, You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom.  U know how it works.  Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them...That is  
why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.  In their present state, they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it.  I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again... “But you have God-blessed eyes-eyes that see!  And God-blessed ears-- ears to  hear!.... Study this story of the farmer planting seed...The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears & takes the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”