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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Were You There When I Laid the Foundation?

Were You There When I Laid the Foundation?

Job 38:1-7, 31-41

The book of Job begins with a description of Job as a man who was righteous and blameless before God and who was quite well off.  Then a dialogue occurs between God and the Satan.  God tells the Satan to look at Job who is one of the most righteous human beings on the face of the earth.  The Satan scoffs at God and says, “Well of course he is righteous.  He’s got everything he needs.  If you take away everything that he has he will curse you to your face.”  So God lays a wager that Job will remain faithful and give Satan permission to take away everything.  So Job’s sons and daughters are all killed in an accident at a gathering, and Job lost all his livestock, all of his wealth.  But Job remained faithful to God and did not curse him.  So Satan and God have pretty much the same conversation and this time Satan says, “Yes, but if you take away his health he will surely curse you.”  So God gave Satan permission to do what he wanted to Job, short of killing him.  Job is plagued by miserable ailments and ends up in a heap of shards, scratching his festering sores and lamenting the day he was born.  Several of his friends came to sit with him at first in silence then each one speaking a turn.  They in different ways tried to convince Job that all of what has happened to him was because he has sinned in some way.  But Job protests that he is innocent of wrongdoing and prays that he be able to meet God face to face to challenge God about his condition.  After all the arguments of his friends and his own lamentations, God finally grants his prayer and faces Job.  But the answers Job wants do not come.  Instead God challenges Job.  Here is how God answers.  (Read Job 38:1-7, 34-41)

It was during one of my long silent walks in Monroe that I saw an interesting sight.  A small black and white cat ran across the road and entered a field where several big Canadian Geese were feeding.  I watched as the cat, upon spying the geese, flattened himself to the ground, then ever so carefully took a few steps, then flattened again, creeping slowly toward the geese.  The cat looked so intent upon stalking those geese that he didn’t seem to notice anything else, including this silent intruder watching  the whole scene unfold.  He could not guess that I saw the futility of what he was att5empting to do.  Was he even aware that those geese were far bigger and probably far meaner than he was?  Inwardly I was laughing at the foolishness of the cat.  It took him quite a while to get near, but I waited patiently to see the outcome of his endeavors.  And finally when he was within ten feet or so of his target, it must have dawned on him that he had bitten off more than he could handle.  He did an about face and slinked back into a group of trees and waited for a more opportune adventure.  So I started moving back down the road, watching him as I walked.  To my amazement, he started crouching again then slinking a few steps, then crouching again and I realized that now I was his intended target.  Was this cat crazy?  I waited to see how near he would come, but as he crept closer, again he must have weighed the situation and decided that he would not be fruitful with this endeavor also.  He ran off into the woods, possibly to find smaller, more manageable prey.

I thought about that cat.  He seemed to be after something far bigger than he could manage.  His efforts and his strength wer tied up in seeking prey that he could not manage.  Job, in his seeking for answers to his suffering was looking for some rational reason why these bad things were happening to him.    His friends did their best to help him with answer that Job knew were wrong for him.  Job knew he was in the right.  He knew he had not sinned against God, so there was no apparent logical reasoning for his condition.  The answers he sought eluded him.  The only way to find answers was to challenge God himself.  Job went after the only one who could provide him with answers, God.  I thought about that cat going after the geese.  But God did not give Job the answers he sought.  Instead God turned the tables on Job and questioned him instead.  It is in God’s questions that Job finally comes to the realization that God was in all things, including Job’s suffering.  God challenges Job to understand how creation came about and how creation works knowing that Job was incapable of understanding.  God points out through his questioning that much of what Job is capable of seeing and experiencing is wrapped up in mystery, including Job’s suffering.  Job is a cat chasing after geese, understanding that are far bigger than his is and quite beyond his comprehension.

But don’t we ask the same questions?  Why do we or one we love suffer?  We ask what we did to deserve our suffering.  We want to know why some suffer an others do not.  But when we ask those types of question, we are cats chasing after gees ourselves.  We do not find answers to such question, so perhaps we are asking the wrong questions.  The better question to ask is :”will God be there in my suffering?”  We know that suffering is a part of life, but we also know that this is God’s creation and some of that creation includes such mysteries as why some people seem to suffer more than others.  But one thing we also know through our faith is that God is present no matter what the circumstances of our lives.  God does not desert what God has created.  So the question and prayer then become, “How, O God , can you help me through this terrible state of my life?”

I have a friend who suffered through periodic bouts of depression.  She could not understand why this happened to her, and often was well into depression before she even realized it.  Her suffering was intense and painful and there were times when she truly felt hopeless.  When she knew she was in this state she would call and ask if we could take a walk.  So we would walk and talk and eventually our conversations would turn to one of my favorite subjects, God.  When I talked to her about God, I would speak quite passionately.  And she would listen very intently, sometimes offering a piece of her own understanding about God.  Several weeks after one such walk and conversation about God, and after she was back on medication, I asked her what benefitted her most in those walks.  Without hesitation, she said that she just needed to Know God was there and she could hear God in the passion with which we spoke of God.

Suffering will happen in life.  And there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason why it happens to one person more than another.  When one of my former parishioners was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and began a process of debilitative decline, it was devastating for that family since she was only in her mid 40’s.  But then her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within a month.  It was more than the family could take.  But an interesting thing happened.  The parishioner who was first diagnosed with cancer, found her faith beginning to blossom, and the faith with which she lived the few short months of the rest of her life, sustained the family, especially in the days that she was bedridden.  At some point in their daughter’s journey toward death and new life, the family stopped asking why and began seeking God’s presence in their daughter’s experience of suffering.  That family began to rely more and more on God as they watched their daughter’s physical abilities diminish.  What they witnessed was their daughter’s blossoming trust in God and they realized they were being carried with her into new understanding and insight.  Of course they suffered heartache and pain and grief, but they also knew where they could get the strength needed to survive their ordeal.

We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want those we love to suffer, but suffering is a fact of life, for reasons we just don’t understand, for reasons that are quite beyond our comprehension.  But it has been show over and over again that there can be deeper understanding of God’s love to be had beyond our suffering.  It is at our deepest level of pain that we encounter the true strength of God’s love.  It finally dawned on Job that the ways of God were far beyond his ability to understand and eh replies in this way, “I know you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; there for I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  Job has come to an understanding that leads him to surrender at last to God.  God has not deserted him after all, but God has revealed the mystery that surrounds all the events in Job’s life.  Job will not understand God’s ways, but Job knows that God will always be there in his suffering.

We all go through suffering experiences, but the hope for us lies in the Christian message of God’s love through the one who suffered greatly for us.  Jesus embraced the mystery of suffering because he knew where his true strength came from.  God was the deepest source of his being and God is the deepest source of our being.  It doesn’t do any good to come to church and pray and sing and worship God with one another unless we leave believing that God travels with us through all our experiences.  It is when we see God in our most painful moments that we grow in ways that ultimately bring peace and strength.  We were not created to remain in our suffering, but to move beyond suffering into holy moments of profound joy and rest in God.  God continues to draw us onward toward ever deeper relationship with Him.  God calls us into question when we want the answers to suffering and by questioning us, gives us the more profound sense of the awesome mystery of Divine love.  It’s what we were made for.

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