This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Israeli Army not guilty of Rchael Corrie’s death-Israeli Court finds:
Job 6:1-4, 8-15, 21
Job Replies: My Complaint Is Just
6Then Job answered:
2 ‘O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances!
3 For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; therefore my words have been rash.
4 For the arrows of the Almighty* are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.
8 ‘O that I might have my request, and that God would grant my desire;
9 that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!
10 This would be my consolation; I would even exult* in unrelenting pain; for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
11 What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient?
12 Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?
13 In truth I have no help in me, and any resource is driven from me.
14 ‘Those who withhold* kindness from a friend forsake the fear of the Almighty.*
15 My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed, like freshets that pass away,
21 Such you have now become to me;* you see my calamity, and are afraid.
The suspicion of Job’s pious friends is that Job must be a sinner and have deserved the misfortunes that have come upon him; and his robust complaint to God makes them think their suspicion may be correct. But Job is adamant: he has kept God’s word, and yet he and his dear ones have been struck down. He doesn’t necessarily want relief; he wants an answer. All sorts of books have been written to “justify God’s ways to man”, and the truth is, it can’t be done. Life is unfair and there’s an end on it. If our faith can’t cope with that fact, it needs to grow. I believe we live in a world where nothing is controlled, right down to the behaviour of the smallest of particles. Chance and indeterminacy are evident in all processes. I also therefore believe in a God who has permitted this amount of freedom in his creation. I can say that one of the consequences of this lack of control is the freewill of human beings, but I’m not sure if that justifies it. If as a Christian believer I interpret what I know of God by way of Jesus, then I’m led to trust that God’s gift of freedom to his creation is an expression of parental love, analogous to the love shown by human parents to their adult children. Clearly, such comprehensive freedom always includes the risk of suffering-in the case of the evolution of the universe, great suffering for all sentient creatures. I believe that the cross of Chrst is the sign that God the cteator has shared this suffering from the beginning, and that at the end, will wipe away all tears from all eyes.
But from the perspective of being part of the creative process, I must continue, like Job, to be outraged by all suffering and not pretend that I either understand or approve. Only in this way can I show my faith in a God who is truly other, and not an idol manufactured for my comfort. The book of Job offers its tough wisdom to those who are dissatisfied with conventional religion.
I think of members of the church who in the time I’ve known them, have experienced the father of the family struck by Parkinson’s disease; the mother by cancer of the ankle followed by a botched operation leading to an amputation of the lower leg; the daughter’s baby born quadriplegic; her marriage breaking up; and latterly, after twelve years of beloved life, the death of the child. And yes, they have been wonderfully brave and faithful, but they have all been scarred by what has happened. There’ll have to be a great deal of work if all their tears are to be wiped away.
Another aspect of this issue is that if we allow our faith to reduce our outrage at suffering, we diminish our desire to eradicate the causes of suffering as far as we may. Even our neighbourly compassion may allow us to accept suffering against which we should rebel. One of the most thoughtful of all hymns is by Brian Wren:
Spirit of Jesus, if I love my neighbour
out of my knowledge, leisure, power or wealth
help me to understand the shame and anger
of helplessness that hates my power to help.
And if, when I have answered need with kindness
my neighbour rises, wakened from despair,
keep me from flinching when the cry for justice
requires of me the changes that I fear.
If I am hugging safety or possessions
uncurl my spirit, as your love prevails,
to join my neigbours, work for liberation
and find my freedom at the mark of nails.
We can find our freedom at the mark of nails but we should never accept the damage they do.