22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass

8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands

1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground

2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence

25 Jun 2017
Always Uniting…

18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?

11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake

4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes

14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful

30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace

23 Apr 2017
Faithful Doubting

16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!

12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit

12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?

22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith

25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine

11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone

4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit

27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment

16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice

9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness

2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap

25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man

4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom

21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by

31 Jul 2016
When Less is More

24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships

17 Jul 2016
Died Wise

10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road

3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again

29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer

22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom

15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light

8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness

1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?

17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!

3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!

27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions

20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace

13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully

6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven

28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone

21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?

7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds

Sermons

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

22 October, 2017 Job Chapter 1 & 2 Pentecost 20 By Rev Dr Christopher Page


"Job in Despair"  Marc Chagall

 

Introduction:
“What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.” Those words were penned by the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and have become a kind of mantra in the 21st century. While there is a truth deep within this saying, it is not always the case. Sadly, adversity can crush a person. Regrets, sorrows and disappointments can rob us of a full and purposeful life and lead to despair.

But it is also true that when we take seriously the difficult and tough experiences that tumble unbidden into our lives, life can become richer, deeper and more fulfilling. While it is a truism to say that it’s not so much what happens to you, but rather how you respond to it that matters; nevertheless, a spirit of courage and resilience will more likely triumph over adversity than a spirit of weak resignation. None of us really seeks suffering, but when it does come into our lives there comes with it a kind of invitation to see life in a new and perhaps expanded way. To be opened to going deeper into the very heart of life.

For much of my life, I believed the way to God was a sort of ascension!! I suppose it comes with our culture. Get to the top of the class. Be the best apprentice. Make the most money…. And so on. And in one sense there is nothing wrong with that. However, it just doesn’t give the whole truth about life. I lived by the aphorism “every day in every way I am getting better and better” principle even in my Christian faith. If I want to really encounter God, then be the best person I can be and strive to know more and more about the religious life. It took a great fall in my life to help me see that more often than not, the way to God is downward and sometimes you end up with your face in the mud just so you can see the face of God.

The character Santiago in Paul Coelho’s book The Alchemist says, "Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That's where I am, and that's where your treasure is." The theologian Paul Tillich insisted that God is the “ground of our being.” So maybe we need to be grounded to discover our true selves and know the rock from which we are hewn. Perhaps the tears and the sorrows and the hurts can actually lead us to discover what “we will do with our one wild and precious life,” to quote the poet Mary Oliver.

The Suffering of Job
The parable of Job is a kind of morality story with a sting in the tail. Carl Jung considers the Book of Job a landmark development in the "divine drama", for the first time contemplating criticism of God. It is a reframing of the answer to the question what is a good moral and worthwhile life.

This ancient parable puts flesh on the quote by Friedrich Nietzsche on the front of the Order of Service, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” Some may say that Fred Nietzsche was no friend of the Christian faith. This 19th-century philosopher invented the term “God is dead!” But I disagree. I think he was more like the small boy who proclaimed that the Emperor had no clothes on. The continental philosophers of the 19th century saw that the church, the Christian faith, was losing its way and becoming mired in the quest for ritualistic, authoritarian morality without a good dose of reality.

I think this old man Job was facing similar issues that we face in the 21st century. The God I have experienced and encountered doesn’t ask us to conform to an arbitrary set of rules that limits our experience of human life and the wonder of this universe. But rather the God I listen to and respond to calls me to embrace reality, the truth of life with all its beauty and terror.

The Quaker scholar Parker Palmer in his book, Let your Life Speak, suggests that “God asks us to honour our created nature, which means our limits as well as our potentials. When we fail to do so, reality happens – God happens – and the way closes behind us.”

I don’t think God is a schoolmaster, anxious that I will pass some moral test and be recognised by all as an upstanding member of polite society. The God I know, and have encountered, draws me through the often painful vicissitudes of daily living on a life-given quest to become who I am intended to be. It takes a long time to become yourself. That’s the journey Job was on. He didn’t have to be good, rather he needed to become whole.

Mary Oliver penned a poem in 2004 that captures the essence of this draw toward wholeness:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
…….
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

That’s Job’s story. The reader of this parable observes what seems to be the diminishment of this man - everything of value is taken from him. Every triumph, every success and advantage he had gained through hard work, talent and good luck was torn from his life. Down, down, down he went. His fortune collapsed; his children were murdered, his health deteriorated and he fell to his knees and to the earth. He was grounded by his great suffering.

Remember this is a parable. Job is in fact every man or woman who has suffered and lost what he or she loved. Some say this is actually more an exploration into the nature of God than it is a treatise on human suffering. True, it is focused on Job’s terrible misery, and I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it all works out in the end.

Joyce Carol Oates suggests that

…in Jung’s interpretation, Job is completely innocent. He is a scrupulously pious man who follows all the religious conventions, and for most of his life he is blessed with good fortune. This is the expected outcome for a just man in a rationally ordered universe. But then God goes to work on him, tests him with misfortune, reduces him to misery, and finally overwhelms him with questions and images of divine majesty and power. Job is silenced, and he realises his inferior position vis-a-vis the Almighty.

[Therefore] God develops empathy and love through his confrontation with Job, and out of it a new relationship between God and humankind is born." 1

 

The Question of Suffering
Some scholars have suggested that this piece of literature is the oldest writing in the Bible and it represents one of those axial shifts in human consciousness, because it struggles with and gives some clarity to the age-old question of where the divine, the creator, is when human beings suffer. Of course, anyone who has read this remarkable parable of human misery and the attempt to give an answer to the question of suffering will come to one of three conclusions.

  1. There is no answer. That’s just the way it is to live on planet earth. Just accept it. You are born; you live; you die!! The problem with that response is that it just doesn’t ring true. All the great wisdom, the religious and humanitarian traditions that have brought us to this place, seek and struggle to at least gain an insight into this dilemma.

  2. The second is often the religious response and that is: just believe that everything is the way God intended it to be and if you are suffering it may be your problem. Have you done a moral inventory lately? Maybe you have sinned and God needs to punish you. Friends, the day we leave that notion behind is the day we become adults. “Who has sinned, this man or his parents?” There must be someone to blame. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on… As we read on in the book of Job we see that his friends are convinced that he is to blame for his own misfortune. Of course there is a relationship between cause and effect. Live wild and die young!! But human suffering is bigger than that. It is the injustice visited on the innocent who suffer that raises the questions in our minds. And the simple religious response is inadequate.

  3. Which leaves only one more option - well, it leaves many options, but I’m preaching the sermon so I am limiting the options. Suffering is woven into the very fabric of life - all life - and the human response to suffering is compassion, kindness, empathy, courage, resilience, patience; the list of human actions and responses is endless.

Many writers have said it is so. Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic Australian poem is one example:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

I don’t think we should too easily collapse our thinking into mystery. That can be a cheap way out. But it seems to me, when I am sitting beside a person who is in the last moments of life and there is pain and suffering and sorrow, that I am speechless before something I know so little about. There is a not knowing in the great struggles of life. It was William Sloane Coffin, the preacher at Riverside Church in New York, who said:

The worst thing we can do with a dilemma is to resolve it prematurely because we haven’t the courage to live with uncertainty.

There is an uncertainty here; let us have the courage to live into it.

 

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1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Answer_to_Job

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