I wish that my words could be written down or chiseled into rock. I know that my Savior lives, and at the end he will stand on this earth. My flesh may be destroyed, yet from this body I will see God. Yes, I will see him for myself, and I long for that moment. (CEV)
I am going to let you in on the reasons why I observe the Church Calendar each year and follow the Christian seasons. First, it is a way for me to know Jesus better. The Year is thoroughly centered around the person and work of Christ. Much like the seasons of Spring and Fall, I look forward to entering a new season and discovering the beauty of my Lord in a fresh way.
Second, observing the Christian Year reorients my use of time. Rather than think of time in secular terms or as my time, I submit to time that is dictated by a thorough attention to Jesus. And finally, moving through the Year is a journey with Jesus – his journey is my journey.
All of Christ’s life was an act of redemption for us. His redemptive events of incarnation, holy life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification demonstrate that Christ is my Redeemer. What is more, I enjoy a union with Jesus, an intimate connection which is so close that his journey is my journey. Christ identified with me in his life on this earth. Jesus took on the death which should have been mine. He rose from death, ascended to heaven, and was glorified as King of all.
I know that my Redeemer lives because I have walked with him. I, too, just like my Savior, will someday rise from death, ascend with him, and reign with him forever in his glorious presence. Jesus has made it all possible, and that is why I enter the Christian Year, time and time again, with expectancy, faith, and hope.
With the ashes of Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) this is more than a reminder of my mortality. It is full of meaning and imbibed with hope. Yes, I am dust, and I will return to dust. But that dust will rise again and live with Jesus forever.
Merciful Lord and Savior, you lived the life on this earth which I could not in my weakness and shortcoming. Through the gift of faith, I have an inheritance and a hope that someday I will be with you forever. Thank you for your abundant grace and the constant reminders throughout the Year that you are with me – your journey is my journey. Amen.
Oh, that my grief was weighed, all of it were lifted in scales; for now it is heavier than the sands of the sea; therefore, my words are rash. The Almighty’s arrows are in me; my spirit drinks their poison, and God’s terrors are arrayed against me. Does a donkey bray over grass or an ox bellow over its fodder? Is tasteless food eaten without salt, or does egg white have taste? I refuse to touch them; they resemble food for the sick.
Oh, that what I’ve requested would come and God grant my hope; that God be willing to crush me, release his hand and cut me off. I’d still take comfort, relieved even though in persistent pain; for I’ve not denied the words of the holy one. What is my strength, that I should hope; my end, that my life should drag on? Is my strength that of rocks, my flesh bronze? I don’t have a helper for myself; success has been taken from me. (CEB)
The Old Testament character of Job is famous as the poster boy for suffering, grief, and sorrow. A divine and devilish drama was taking place behind the curtain of this world, of which Job had absolutely no clue about. All he knew was that he lost everything – his family, his wealth, and his standing before others. The only thing left was his own life – and he was in such physical pain and emotional agony that he was ready to die.
Yet, the greatest pain of all seems to be the silence of God. Job has no idea, nothing to grab ahold of no earthly sense of why he was going through such intense and terrible suffering. His cries, tears, pleas, and expressions of deep hurt seemingly go un-noticed. Job felt truly alone in his horrible pain of body and spirit.
Job’s story is as old as time – probably having taken place 4,000 years ago. And here we are, all these millennia later, knowing the story of why Job suffered, as well as the end of the story. But Job himself never knew why he suffered, even when God spoke and restored his health and wealth.
It is so extremely easy and normal to ask the question, “Why!?” When we are in the throes of emotional pain and our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling, there is only trust left for us. We do what is unthinkable to others who have never known God – place our complete reliance and hope on the God for whom we know is not really sleeping or off on a vacation. We believe, even know, God is there. For whatever reasons which we might never know this side of heaven, God chooses to remain silent.
The genuineness of faith is not determined by giving the right answers to a theology questionnaire. Genuine faith is made strong through the trials, sufferings, pain, and lack of understanding in this life. We all suffer in some way. How we choose to respond to that suffering, either by cursing God and becoming bitter, or holding to God even tighter and becoming better, is totally up to you and me.
God of all creation, you see and survey all your creatures here on this earth. Sometimes I just do not understand what in the world you are doing or not doing. Yet today I choose to put my faith, hope, and love in you. I may not know what the heck I am doing, but you always work to accomplish your good purposes, through Jesus Christ, my Savior, along with the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment. Light is withheld from the wicked, and their uplifted arm is broken.
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? Surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great! (NRSV)
The older I get, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize how little knowledge I truly possess. When I was eighteen years old, I thought I had the world pretty much figured out. Since then, it has all been downhill. With each passing year, my ignorance seems to grow exponentially. I suppose this all really makes some sense when talking about God’s upside-down kingdom. So much more of life is a mystery to us than we realize.
The more discernment I get, the less, I discover, I know.
Seems like the biblical character of Job found this out the hard way. If there is any person in Holy Scripture that would be wise and understanding, its him. God speaks highly of Job in the Bible.Regarding the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, God said, “even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 14:14).Job is held up as the model of patience under suffering: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).
Yet, with all of Job’s integrity, patience, and righteousness his understanding can barely get a movement on the Richter Scale of God’s expansive knowledge. We likely are somewhat familiar with the story of Job. Being a conscientious follower of God, Job is careful to live uprightly. He acknowledges God in all things and worships him alone. Yet, suffering befell him – for no other reason than that God allowed it. Job knew fully well that there was no personal sin behind his awful ordeal of grief and grinding pain.
So, Job contended with God. For an agonizing thirty-five chapters (Job 3:1-37:24) Job questions God and respectfully takes him to task – as Job’s supposed friends questioned him and assume his guilt. Through it all God is there silent… saying nothing. Then, just when we think God is paying no attention, he suddenly speaks. What is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for the next four chapters (Job 38:1-41:34) he gives no answers. It is all questions. God said,
“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3).
It becomes abundantly clear after just a few questions that it would be impossible for any human being to even come close to having the understanding to answer anything God asks. And that was the whole point. God is God, and we are not. Our questions, however legitimate, real, and raw they are, come from a very puny perspective. In other words, we just don’t know as much as we think we do.
To Job’s great credit, he keeps his mouth shut and listens. At the end of the questioning, Job responds in the only wise way one could after such an encounter:
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).
None of this means that, for us, we need to face our hardships and our sufferings with a stoic keep-a-stiff-upper-lip approach. Trapped grief will inevitably come out sideways and only cause more hurt. I believe God allowed Job to express his terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for chapter after chapter because he needed to. Only when God sensed it was the proper timing did he jump in and bring the perspective Job then needed. And even after being challenged by God about his vantage point, Job still did not receive answers as to why he had to endure the awfulness of loss beyond what most of us could comprehend.
Maybe we lack being able to understand even if God directly answered all our questions. Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Again, this is all pure conjecture. Which leaves us with perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings: We must eventually come to the place of being comfortable with mystery – and even embracing it.
We simply will not have all things revealed to us that we want to know. And that’s okay.
There is yet one more comment to observe about God’s questioning of Job. God is sarcastic. Sarcasm often gets a bad rap, much like anger does, because it is so often associated with unacknowledged emotions and/or expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way. Yet, there the sarcasm is, with the God of the universe. I must admit, I take some odd comfort in knowing that God can be snarky at times – in a good way. Anytime we try to pin God down to nice neat understandable categories, he typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates to us that he cannot be contained in our ramshackle box. I like it that God is playful, wild, and free to be himself – even if there are times it may bug me.
God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who he will be. “I AM who I AM,” he once said. Now that’s a God I can put my trust in.
O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.
O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. Amen.
“Keep silent and let me speak;
then let come to me what may.
Why do I put myself in jeopardy
and take my life in my hands?
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless person would dare come before him!
Listen carefully to what I say;
let my words ring in your ears.
Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated.
Can anyone bring charges against me?
If so, I will be silent and die. (NIV)
The story of the biblical character, Job, is both famous and infamous. It’s famous among most bible readers because we are privy to why Job endured such terrible suffering and how the story ends. Conversely, the story is infamous because Job’s “friends” and most everyone else in his day believed that the extremely hard circumstances were proof positive of sin. Job had the misfortune of being misunderstood and misinterpreted with an evil, infamous, reputation.
Job was understandably desperate. He hadn’t a clue why he lost his every earthly possession and relationship, not to mention his health. Job was hurt, angry, and lonely. In today’s Old Testament text, we observe Job getting ready to have-it-out with God. It is interesting to me that in such grinding physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as Job experienced, he held to both his own integrity and of confidence in God.
If this story strikes a familiar chord, it may be because this was also Christ’s experience. Jesus did nothing unethical or immoral to deserve being whipped, beaten, and tortured. Our Lord, like Job, felt the awful sting of silence stating, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). As we fast approach Holy Week, the Lectionary reminds us that there must be suffering before glory, crucifixion before resurrection, agony before victory.
I wonder what humanity would be like if we stopped fighting so hard against suffering and instead leaned into it as a teacher and a means of awareness. For the Christian, I am curious what the Church everywhere would be like if she embraced suffering as the path of solidarity with Jesus. I wonder what human interactions on the personal, corporate, and global level would look like if people throughout the earth would stare this current pandemic through their spiritual eyes and imagine as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann does:
“We may imagine God doing a new thing among us. Perhaps we are arriving at a new neighborly normal:
Imagine, we are treating prisoners differently, even releasing some who constitute no threat
Imagine, we are mobilizing generous financing for needy neighbors who must have resources in order to survive.
Imagine, we are finding generous provisions for students and their debts.
The new thing God is making possible is a world of generous, neighborly compassion.”
When we are stripped of wealth, cut-off from others, and do not know how to make sense of the suffering around us and in our own lives – it is in such a time that we are invited to consider a few observations from the story of Job:
Much, if not most, of life is a mystery – including God. We are neither all-knowing nor all powerful. Our nation’s perceived power and intellectual savvy expose deep fissures of pride and hubris. Events like pandemics reveal that there is so much we don’t know and must learn. We will likely never get all the answers we want when tragedy hits and lives are turned upside-down.
Confronting and contending with God is okay, perhaps even encouraged. Unlike the human creature, the Creator God is big enough to take and absorb whatever anger, rage, disappointment, discouragement, depression, fist-shaking, and expletives we throw at him.
Suffering does not mean that God has forgotten us. We may not understand why or even what we go through. We will, however, never go through it alone. God is often silent; yet, never aloof. God maintains both his transcendence high above us and his immanence close to us at the same time, all the time. In the Christian tradition, this is why the Holy Spirit was given – to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.
My prayer for you today is that your suffering will not be wasted – that God will bend each adverse situation toward your good and the good of others.