Sunday, October 18, 2015

“Paradox of Faith” (Job 38:1-7, 34-41)

So, after moaning and groaning, whining and complaining . . . challenging and harassing God . . . Job finally gets what he wishes and prays for—an audience with God.  I don’t think that it is quite what Job expected.

Now remember . . . Job has legitimate complaints . . . pertinent questions . . . for God.  He is frustrated . . . he is angry.  And who can blame him?  His children and family have been killed, his wealth has been taken away, he has been afflicted with a nasty skin disease, and he is reduced to sitting in the town dump moaning and groaning about how rotten life looks from the bottom of the barrel.  Job looks around the world and it is a dangerous place . . . filled with pitfalls and traps . . . full of hard, sharp edges that cut the body and the soul.  It is a place of hopelessness and ugliness and suffering.  And, it hurts . . . it hurts Job to the roots of his faith and heart.  It is understandable that Job is angry.  Whether we like it or not, it is a deep, primal form of faith that Job is displaying.

Job is pretty mad at God.  And, as I stated earlier, who could blame him.  From the throne of privilege and blessing to the sewers of sinfulness . . . Job has taken a tumble that he cannot understand, nor can he explain.  It feels cruel that God has done this to him.  So he complains . . . he complains to the point that he is even condemning God for the hardships of his life.  Job wants to know.  Of course Job’s friends try to shush the words of blasphemy and heresy they are hearing from Job, despite the fact that his words are honestly raw in like of the suffering that he is enduring.  But Job doesn’t listen.  Despite what it seems like to those around him, Job does not give up his understanding of his faith and who he is as a person of faith . . . he remains steadfast in his claim of being righteous and blameless in spite of his doubt and questioning of God.  His faith grows stronger . . . imagine the kind of faith it takes to trust God enough to challenge and condemn God.

So, God answers Job.

One would think that God is not too pleased with Job or his attitude from the words that are spoken: “Who is this that darkens by counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”  Those are not words of endearment.  Job has questioned and indicted God for what he perceives as indifference toward God’s children.  Job keeps asking God where in the world God has gone as he looks around the world and sees nothing but suffering and pain.  Job wants to know why God has forsaken the people.  Pretty uppity stuff for a human.  And, God responds in kind.  God puts Job in his place.

But we do not want to get caught up in the tone of this response from God . . . no, more importantly we want to look at how God responds to Job.  Now, granted, God does not directly address Job’s words or complaints; but, God does answer Job.  Where Job see the world as an ugly, hurtful, painful place . . . well, God responds with a world that God sees as a place of beauty.  God responds to Job’s indictment . . . God just doesn’t give him an answer.  God doesn’t try to explain.  God doesn’t even contradict Job’s accusations.  God just responds with beauty.

Whereas Job casts a vision of a world that is overshadowed by pain and suffering; God responds by showing him a world of beauty and hope.  It is the same world.

Now here comes the paradox.  A paradox is “a statement that, despite sound (or apparently sound: reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or even self-contradictory.”  Both Job and God are talking about the same world—one sees ugliness and pain, the other beauty.  One is not any more “right” than the other . . . they are both realities of the same world.  They are not competing views . . . one does not negate the other.  For faith to work, it takes seeing the world from both perspectives.

God does not exactly answer Job’s questions about suffering . . . not because there is no answer, but there is no answer—even from God—that would ever satisfactorily answer the question of pain and suffering in the world.  Nothing solves suffering.  Nothing answers it.  But suffering and grief is not the whole story of our lives and of the world.  There is beauty, and grace, and hope in the world . . . existing simultaneously, in paradox, side by side.

Yeah, I know . . . it doesn’t make sense . . . this response from God.  It feels insufficient.  Yet, maybe, there is wisdom in responding to suffering with an invitation to see beauty around us, to allow beauty to interrupt despair and grief.

Beauty is as unexplainable as suffering . . . it cannot really be explained . . . it can only be experienced.  And, like suffering, beauty changes us.  Sometimes it takes a situation like Job experiences to open our eyes to this paradox of faith.  Job’s suffering and grief removed that protective barrier of wealth and privilege to open his eyes to see how deeply suffering, injustice and pain course through the human experience of life.  That is why he could only see suffering and pain in the world.

But, we need both . . . we need the paradox. 

How do you view the world we are living in?

If I look at the world through the lenses of others—like the news media . . . television, radio, newspapers, the Internet—I see a bleak, dark world filled with suffering, pain, and injustice.  It is not a pretty world that we are living in . . . it is an ugly world.  There are wars being waged around the world . . . people fleeing their homelands because of the violence and threat of death.  There are school shootings where innocent people are losing their lives . . . more and more senseless gun deaths.  There is a rising rate of murder . . . even in our area in which Billings has already experienced more murders in a single three month period than it has over the past couple of years.  There are people starving to death because they have nothing to eat . . . 21,000 a day.  We are in the political season and we see the uncivility of the candidates towards one another and the people who will elect them.  We see it in our news . . . read it on our social media . . . hear it in the stories of those around us.  It is a pretty ugly world that we live in . . . one I imagine Job would affirm as his experience.

Yet, at the same time, research shows that, despite all the war and unnecessary killing occurring in our world and nation . . . we are actually living in the most peaceful and least violent time in human history.  Also, again according to research, we are living in a time when there are fewer people hungry than ever before, thanks to political advocacy and charity . . . thanks to this effort the number of people suffering from hunger around the globe has been cut in half since the 1960s.

From one perspective the world is going to hell in a hand basket; on the other hand, it is being healed and the world’s people are making progress.  How can this be?  How can we hold both perspectives in our heads and hearts to make any sense out of it all?

That is the paradox . . . the paradox of faith.

There is suffering in the world . . . bad things happen to all people.  There is beauty in the world, too . . . all around us.  Surprisingly, we—God’s children—stand in the nexus between the two . . . one foot in each side.  It is here that we live our lives . . . that we have our existence . . . that we must learn faith.  It is a great mystery.  There are no answers to the suffering or the beauty in the world.  We need both.  We need to cultivate them—an awareness of the suffering of humanity and an awareness of the beauty of creation.

Job is pleading with God to look at the world and bear witness to its suffering and pain, God is pleading with Job to look at the world and bear witness to its beauty and glory.  They need each other.  God needs to see Job’s prophetic grief . . . Job needs to see God’s prophetic beauty.  Both are needed in order to live.  It is a fine balancing act that we—the faithful—are called to do in the journey of life . . . in the journey of faith.  In the end, both Job and God realize the truthfulness of this fact . . . they see eye to eye.

This is the change presented by the Book of Job.  The intimate relationship begins.  No longer is God above creation, but is now alongside of it.  Between the suffering and the beauty we encounter the divine . . . we encounter the grace . . . and, we find the door open to be in an intimate relationship with God.  Sometimes things have to come to a head and spill out in angry words . . . letting it all out, before there can be a real relationship in which two truly listen to one another.  Ask Job . . . I think he would concur.  Amen.

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