Reflections to start the week
Monday, August 25, 2014
Guided by the Daily Lectionary found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer, I’m reading my way through the Book of Job, that book of the Bible which addresses a mystery we all know too well, the perplexing question posed by Rabbi Kushner: Why do bad things happen to good people (or any people, for that matter)? The ancient book, a poem in many respects, wins the kind of attention suggested in the quotes in the side column. Its artistry is distinctive, for sure. It also continues to win attention because every one of us knows at least a little bit about what it is like to feel like Job. Maybe you identify with him this morning, or know and love someone who does. In my own ministry, I’ve often commented to people in all kinds of predicaments: You must be feeling like Job. Biblical literacy may be waning in our culture, but people know right away what I’m talking about.
As I’m reading, I’m struck by the ways that Job navigates the challenges he faces. When urged to curse God, prompted by family and friends, he says things like this: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
That response has prompted this question this morning: How do we navigate those experiences? I’m impressed not only with the way Job navigates the suffering. It has also brought to mind the ways that modern equivalents handle suffering faithfully.
I have in mind the witness of Jim Foley who while held as captive in Libya turned to prayer. He told a group of students: “I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on knuckles and it helped to keep my mind focused.” It is the witness of his family, captured in comments offered by Jim’s mother: “Faith has been part of family life, but this has deepened my faith because there is our hope. Our hope is that God will take care of Jim.”
I have in mind the witness of people in Ferguson, Missouri, who gathered a week ago Sunday afternoon for a service of prayer, offered in the midst of their pain over the death of Michael Brown in their community, and all it revealed about our broken communities. Amidst the prayer prompted by pain, there was praise.
I have in mind the pain of Brandi Murry, mother of Antonio, a 9 year old shot in Chicago. She said: “He just didn’t make it. I’m praying for the whole city right now. I don’t want no other parent to every go through this. I feel your pain. It’s bad, and it hurts so much.”
I have in mind a friend, a fine preacher, who suffered a stroke that among other things affected his ability to speak, an inexplicable loss for an eloquent and compelling preacher of the gospel. He offered a reflection on his experience called “The upside of being knocked on your backside”. How do people focus on that upside?
I have in mind the witness of St. Paul, who contended with his own inexplicable, unidentified “thorn in the flesh”, and wrote in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
The record of scripture is clear. Suffering comes to each one of us. Maybe it’s acutely felt by you this morning. How do we navigate these passages? A mentor told me that when we can’t understand, we withstand. When we can’t explain, we proclaim, offering praise and thanks, expressing hope even when that seems senseless. It’s not easy. I don’t know if I can do it. But we are, by grace, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who show the way.
– Jay Sidebotham
Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job.” – Victor Hugo
It is the greatest poem, whether of ancient or modern literature. -Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Book of Job taken as a mere work of literary genius is one of the most wonderful productions of any age or of any language. -Daniel Webster
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.