We are now 11 days into Lent. 29 more days till Pascha (Easter).
In addition to “fasting” from Twitter–which has been difficult for me, but so far, I’ve kept to it (note: WordPress will automatically Tweet this post when I publish it. I am not doing that myself, it is an automatic setting, so I haven’t broken my “fast” by this,) I have added a daily reading from a Book called The Gospel According to Job: An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One Who Lost Everything, by Mike Mason, which takes the Book of Job passage by passage and looks at it through the lens of Jesus Christ, and examines how Job helps us understand the Gospel and how it applies to our Christian faith.
Each chapter of the book explores a passage of Job verse by verse. So each day, I read one chapter and meditate on Job.
This fits well with the theme of Lent of the struggle of faith and the testing of our faith just as Jesus was tested in the wilderness.
I love the Book of Job. It is so honest, so real. Most scholars believe it to be perhaps the oldest of all of the books of the Bible. It is full of the Mystery of God and the questions that all honest people of faith face when tragedy and suffering come.
My favorite thing about Job is that it skewers and lays to waste every pretense and every “pat answer” that human beings come up with to explain away senseless human suffering and to try to make themselves feel better when God doesn’t make sense and when things happen we cannot understand how they could possibly be God’s will in our lives.
Every human explanation is blasted away as God rebukes Job’s friends for their ignorant, though well-intentioned, advice to Job.
Think about what we say to people who have suffered horrible losses and tragedies. God destroys all of our pet heresies that we think are “comforting”.
“God needed another angel.”
“They are in a better place”
“God will make good come from this.”
“God is giving you a chance to trust him.”
“God is testing your faith.”
Others come at it from a different direction…
“Satan is attacking you! You need to ‘rebuke the Devil’ and ‘claim the promises’ until you get the victory!”
“This is NOT God’s will! This is Satan and we need to ‘plead the blood’ over you and fight spiritual warfare against the demons!”
None of these are appropriate responses to people who are suffering. And the fact is that, if we were really honest, most of these are designed to make us feel better, not the other person.
Job’s friends were doing the best thing they could do in the beginning. They just sat with him in silence as he grieved. They were just THERE.
Where they went wrong is when they opened their mouths.
Some of them accused Job of harboring secret sins. Some of the criticized Job for complaining to God or blaming God. All of them attempted to “defend God” against charges of injustice and cruelty.
And ALL of them were dead wrong.
I love this rebuke of our attempts to explain God, and presumptions to understand the mind of God.
Anyone who thinks they have a good answer to why God allows suffering of innocents have all of their answers rebuffed by God himself.
As an old preacher friend of mine once said, “Job never gets an answer to any of his questions. He just gets his cows back.“
And the oldest manuscripts of Job do not even contain the last verses that give the “happy ending” of Job being restored.
I like that even better. It is instructive. There often ISN’T a happy ending in life. All we are often left with is silence from heaven and dark mystery that has no answers in it.
The idea that someone, long ago, read the original ending of Job and said, “Wait, we can’t leave it like that! We’ve got to give people a more satisfying ending than that.” And then added the “happy ending”, is so human. So real. So true to how we think.
Just like the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Most scholars today say that the last verses of the Gospel of Mark are not original to the text. The oldest manuscripts of Mark lack verses 9-20 of chapter 16. And some ancient copies have different endings. In all, there are 4 different endings to the Gospel of Mark, and none of them are believed to be original to the text.
It is most likely that the Gospel of Mark originally ended at verse 8, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
But that is such an unsatisfying ending! It is no wonder later believers felt they had to add a better ending. Nobody likes leaving it like that, with everyone afraid and everything unresolved.
Faith is hard. There often aren’t any answers. And we are called to trust God even when he doesn’t make sense and doesn’t give us ANY answers. Often the only thing we are left with is HE IS GOD, AND WE ARE NOT. And that is it.
We have to he able to sit with the mystery and accept the fact that often we do not and cannot know why things happen.
That is advanced faith. That is faith that says, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
This is where it gets real.
This is where many people’s faith fails. If we cannot explain it, if we cannot understand it, if we cannot give a good response to WHY….some cannot accept it. And their faith crumbles.
It is when every answer, every explanation, every pretense is stripped away and exposed as empty and utterly meaningless that we are left with nothing to hold on to except God himself…a God who doesn’t make sense to us, a God who is often silent in the face of our questions, a God whose face is obscured by mystery and unknowing, who doesn’t fit our preconceptions and Theologies. And that is all we have to hold on to.
To me, that is where the Disciples were between Good Friday and Easter. The Cross was not what they expected. They never dreamed it would end like that. It didn’t make sense. Despite all of Jesus’ predictions of his coming suffering and death, despite his promises of Resurrection, they really did not understand. To them, it was all over. To them, he was gone. And they could not understand what it was all for.
It is no wonder that Peter denied him. It is no wonder that Thomas did not believe until he saw for himself. It is no wonder the Disciples didn’t initially believe or even understand what Mary Magdalene was telling them about the Resurrection.
This time of Lent is a time to explore the mystery of God, and learn to embrace saying “I don’t know”.
We must find God in the wilderness.